"gradually I've come to realise that my house is haunted by the ghost of a dead astronaut"

Sunday, 31 October 2010

64. Muddy Facts

"The pictures of astronauts, Steph! They are real! Why would people in that house draw pictures of astronauts, only for you to stay here and see dead astronauts coming down out of the sky? Is that a coincidence? No"

[This is a scene from the film version of ‘Nicole Kidman stars in: The Astronaut Dropped’, starring Nicole Kidman in a small ‘bit part’ as a parody of herself, and starring a Kidman ‘body double’ trying to climb the ladder of fame by impersonating Stephanie Fey, a hot little minx who, right now, is covered in mud and looking dirty in more ways than one – though, to be honest, performing in a licentious manner has never really been her bag. In short, everyone seems to be impersonating someone, but how many of them are actually being themselves? Or know what that might be? A question for every day that we’ll sadly have to try and answer another day!]

EXTERIOR – HOLE IN THE GROUND – DAY

The scene is a large hole in the ground, approximately six foot deep and 15 foot wide.  On the outside of the hole is a cloudy sky and just-visible tree tops. At one end of the hole is a ladder. The hole is inhabited by three people: Stephanie Fey, Dizzie Lizzie and the Smelly God (referred to in this scene by the name given to him by Lizzie: Ooph). Dizzie Lizzie is blonde but covered from head to toe in mud. Stephanie Fey has clearly just fallen into the hole; she is sitting on the wet earth and has mud on her trousers and hands. Ooph, also covered in mud and with a spade in his hands, is tall, wide and with dark hair and features. He stands to one side and passively, inscrutably, looks on.)

Stephanie
(Angry)
I can’t believe this! I just can’t believe this. I could have died there, Lizzie, and it would have been your fault!

Lizzie
(Sarcastic and slightly annoyed)
My fault –? My –! Did you hear that, Ooph? Now, there’s gratitude for all we’ve done. Can you believe what you just heard? I can’t! Don’t take it personally, darling Ooph. I’m certainly trying hard not to!

Stephanie is trying to pick herself up off the ground and wipe the mud from herself. On hearing the name Ooph, she looks confused and looks back and forwards between the handyman and Lizzie.

Stephanie
(To Ooph)
Ooph? Is that you? I don’t think I’ve ever known your name.

Lizzie
Well, I’m sure he has one of those proper names: a Brian, or a Jeremy or a … Tavish, or something. But I call him Ooph and Ooph is how he will always be known to me.
(Turning to Ooph)
That’s right, isn’t it, darling Ooph?
(Back to Stephanie)
Well, you see, Steph, he’s so very smelly. The first time I met him my first reaction was ‘Ooph!’ And I’ve called him Ooph ever since. But now he's my darling Ooph!

Stephanie
(Still looking confused)
And … you two … are … an item?
(Lizzie nods her head once emphatically)
And you’ve changed your name to Mud Woman too? What the hell is this, this parade of absolute goddamn nonsense that is my life? What the hell is going on, Lizzie? You abandoned me in order to wander the countryside digging holes and burying cars with a handyman with poor personal hygiene? What the hell is all of this, Lizzie? I need answers. Now! God, look at you, Lizzie! What’s happened to you?

Lizzie
Well, first of all, what happened to me was that I wanted to help my friend. And, second of all, Ooph has been helping me like you just can't believe. He’s been a pillar of very smelly strength and I couldn’t have done any of this without him!

Stephanie
Any of what? Why are you burying Psusan’s car?

Lizzie
Because she’s missing and she was last seen with you. If the police show up at your door and ask you where she is and why her car's in your driveway, what are you going to say?

Stephanie sinks back to the ground again, looking defeated.

Stephanie
(Quietly and speaking to the ground)
I don’t know. That she was lifted out of the house in the blink of an eye by a ghost, I suppose.
(Stephanie shrugs her shoulders.)
The truth of my own imagination is all I know anymore. What else can I say?
(Stephanie suddenly remembers something and looks up at Lizzie quizzically)
Why are you digging holes all over town? Are you burying other things?

Lizzie
No, we’re looking for something. We’re looking for Josh. The boy who went missing? We think he’s dead, but we don’t know where he’s buried. We have some clues, but they haven’t led us to his discovery yet.

Stephanie
Oh. You said you were helping me? How does that help me?

Lizzie
Oh, it’s all related, Stephanie. All of it. Everything that’s been happening to you. Everything in that house. Everything about the history of that house too. It’s all connected in some way.

Stephanie 
(Slightly distressed)
No, don’t say that! It’s not! It’s all in my head. It’s all just nonsense in my head. None of it is real. You can’t possibly believe all of this stuff I've written, Lizzie! Even I don’t believe it all!

Lizzie crouches down beside her.

Lizzie
You’re forgetting the drawings. The ones you found in the files. The pictures of so-called art therapy, drawn by the people who stayed here. The pictures of astronauts, Steph! They are real! Why would people in that house draw pictures of astronauts, only for you to stay here and see dead astronauts coming down out of the sky? Is that a coincidence? No.

Stephanie looks into Lizzie’s eyes, trying to gauge how much honesty is there and how much certainty.

Stephanie
There … might be some … truth … in all of this?

Lizzie just smiles and gives her a hug.

Lizzie
(To Ooph)
Ooph, get the Ooph Mobile! Let’s get back up to the house – we can finish all of this later.

Ooph puts down his spade and starts to climb the ladder.

Stephanie
(Nodding at Ooph and then looking at Lizzie incredulously)
I can’t … believe …

Lizzie
(Winks)
Well, Steph, I was always a dirty girl!

Stephanie
(Almost ignoring Lizzie's statement and suddenly looking deeply into her eyes)
It's not enough, Lizzie. Sketches in old files are not enough to make all of this suddenly real. You're looking for connections where they don't exist in the real world. In my head, yes. But not in the real world.

Lizzie
(Sighs)
There's lots more truth. Lots more, Steph. For a start, can you think what Josh's favourite song was?
(Stephanie looks away and tries to think)
Think. What else could it be?

Stephanie, with realisation, looks up at Lizzie and tears form in her eyes. Lizzie hugs her some more and Stephanie begins to cry quite quietly.

END SCENE.

Next instalment: 65. Cuddles

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

63. I Meet Mud Woman

"I could no longer deny that the events that had taken place since I arrived at Mordan House were to me actual events, even though they crumbled to the touch. In ways, they were no less real than a chair or a table. Somehow a shift in my thinking had happened like an undertow gradually swelling to the surface and finally breaking though in a moment of sweet awareness and sweet relief"

I stood on a verge. But more than one verge.

Beneath my feet was the edge of the gravel driveway outside Mordan House; ever so slightly before me, one small step away, was the grass slope that contained the lines of trammelled grass clearly made by two tyre tracks that disappeared into undergrowth, bushes and trees further down the slope.

But I also stood on the edge of ignorance that appeared to verge on knowledge. Beneath my feet were natural stones broken up by man into equal sizes and scattered before a human home, each stone made somewhat unnatural and functional, and all grouped together for uniformity of colour and consistency. Yet where the tyre tracks went was more wild and mysterious, much more natural. Where I stood was characterised by events that had seemed to promise facts, but that had all turned into vapour; where I wanted to go was to the place beneath facts, yet a place no less real. I could no longer deny that the events that had taken place since I arrived at Mordan House were to me actual events, even though they crumbled to the touch. In ways, they were no less real than a chair or a table. Somehow a shift in my thinking had happened like an undertow gradually swelling to the surface and finally breaking though in a moment of sweet awareness and sweet relief. I now no longer seemed to be asking the world to reveal to me what was fact and what was fantasy. The definitions seemed arbitrary. The pursuit unsatisfactory.

These thoughts kept me company as I walked down the slope, in between the lines made by a car’s tyres. It helped to distract me, this considering of an idea – a philosophy almost – as I walked forwards through the dark greens and browns of autumnal foliage that crackled beneath my feet and rustled as I pushed my way through partially-trampled briars.

Yes, it seemed to me that sometimes, in order to move forward in life, the difference between dream and reality is unimportant. All forces are merely forces to be battled, so battle them all, regardless of what they are. Only when a battle is won is it a good time to ask: what the hell was that anyway?

Ahead of me, through a wall of trees stretching far ahead, I could see a flash of shiny, metallic redness.

What the hell was that? No. I pushed the question away. I would ask myself that another time. It was redness, that was all. Redness that I was moving towards, following the tracks of pressed-down leaves and broken branches and crushed weeds. Pressing and breaking and crushing in the wake of what had been this way sometime before me.

I stopped. There was a mixture of sounds coming from up ahead. From the direction of the metallic redness. A sound of moving, of upset. Perhaps digging. And mixed with human sounds. The sound of grunting and perhaps whispering. The sky above my head was a dull grey and I glanced up, then back where I had come, trying to get a sense of my bearings and how far I had walked. Slower than before, I started to edge forward again.

Was this a new verge, or the same one? Would these oncoming moments answer actual questions or raise more? Quell me or confound me further?

"There was a mixture of sounds coming from up ahead. From the direction of the metallic redness. A sound of moving, of upset. Perhaps digging. And mixed with human sounds. The sound of grunting and perhaps whispering. The sky above my head was a dull grey and I glanced up, then back where I had come, trying to get a sense of my bearings and how far I had walked. Slower than before, I started to edge forward again"

What the hell was that anyway? Definitely voices. One male and one female. Only one male? Only one female? No. I pushed the question away, even as I became utterly sure that the metallic red flash before me was Psychic Psusan’s car, just as I had suspected. Yet even as I tried to push away the related thought that it was Psusan herself that was before me, I saw that the car and the people were in a small clearing that I was only a few metres away from. A gap opened up in the trees and the daylight became brighter as my hand rested on the trunk of a tree and I saw before me a large hole dug into the earth –
nearly big enough for a car – and discerned that the voices were coming from inside the hole. Who the hell was she with? Why would Psusan take her car down here? Why was she digging an enormous hole? And who was her male companion? Or companions?

I wished momentarily that I was psychic – with or without the silent ‘P’. Oh yes, I thought, if I were psychic the last thing I would care about was whether my ‘P’ was silent or not!

I stood on a verge. But more than one verge. I felt the edge of the hole under my feet and peered down inside. There was a ladder at the far end to help the diggers get in and out of the hole. There were indeed two people. One male and one female. But all I could take in was how much they were caked in mud from the digging they were carrying out. Their legs, arms, the entirety of their clothing, their faces, their hair, a covering of thick mud.

It must have been the individual’s build, but all of a sudden I recognised one of the two people unmistakeably. But not due to any pungent odour. No, not this time. This time it was something else about the Smelly God, my local handyman, that caused me to recognise him. 

"There were indeed two people. One male and one female. But all I could take in was how much they were caked in mud from the digging they were carrying out. Their legs, arms, the entirety of their clothing, their faces, their hair, a covering of thick mud"

With a start, he looked up and saw me. With a start, his female companion looked up too.

It had been a while since I’d last seen her. It had been a while since I thought she’d abandoned me while I was in hospital and since I thought it likely that I would never see her again.

She smiled and threw her spade down on the earth floor. “Oh look, it’s the silly moo-moo! Got yourself a new lung yet, Steph?”

I’d seen my best friend Dizzie Lizzie so many times. In so many designer outfits. In so many unpractical pairs of shoes. In so many circumstances where action was avoided due to the fact that it would compromise appearance. The cleanest, most pristine, most preened, most elegant and dainty person I had ever met was now before me wallowing in dirt.

There was no pushing the question away. “What the hell are you doing?”

Lizzie knitted her brow, shook her head and put her hands on her hips. “What? What am I doing?” she cried out in absolute indignation. Then she pointed at herself in a grand and defiant manner. “I’m Mud Woman and I’m burying that car so you don’t get nabbed by the cops, that's what I'm doing! You silly, silly, silly moo-moo!”

My eyebrows raised dramatically and immediately I found that I no longer stood on any verge at all. Shocked at Lizzie’s words, I'd slipped on the mud and fell into the hole.

Next instalment: 64: Muddy Facts

Monday, 25 October 2010

62. One Car in the Driveway: Mine


"At Mordan House there would be one of two things waiting for me. My car alone in the driveway. Or two cars. Mine and Psychic Psusan’s red car. If her car was gone, then she’d left the place quite naturally and I would know that so much of all that was happening was just stuff going on in my head"

“Yes. Okay. Thank you,” I said.

What? Are you some kind of idiot? You said Yes? You said YES? I can’t believe what I’m reading here! Hush up, good reader, you don’t know what I’ve agreed to yet!

“A wise choice. Very wise indeed,” Mr McKay replied smiling.

Wise? Wise my eye! Wise right IN my frickin’ eye. Wise right in YOUR eye! If that’s wisdom, let wisdom hurt, especially when it’s fired into your eye! See how stupid wisdom feels? For cryin’ out loud, will you give it a frookin’ rest! It’s not what you think, okay!

“Under the circumstances, I have to agree with you,” I said to Mr McKay and tugged at my hair. Just one quick and strong yank. Then I gave a forced mock laugh and rolled my eyes as if dismayed at myself.

You wanna see eye-rollin’? Watch this, dumb fuck! See that? Rolled right the way round, then right out my frockin’ head and rolled across the carpet, so they did! Enough already, gentle reader! Enough. Already. Okay? Listen first; ‘go off on one’ later.

Huh. Later! Now. Listen. Here’s what happened.

We both got up from our sofas and went out to the hotel’s reception area. I stood away from Mr McKay as he made the necessary arrangements with the receptionist. The three envelopes were in my hand. One moment they felt like mine; the next moment I wanted to hand them back. At one point Mr McKay was signing something, I recall. Behind him and to one side of the reception, was another TV screen, the same news channel on show, the volume muted. On display was the selfsame rocket: New Prelude, readying itself for take-off. I knew the name instantly. I knew it as the name Philip had given to the spacecraft that had encountered the mysterious astronaut who had hammered on the side of the main airlock before it plunged into darkness. The spacecraft that was later found with three abandoned helmets inside. The spacecraft that I had looked up on the internet. The one that never existed. I couldn’t quite think straight. I couldn’t quite recall straight either.

A man walked into the reception at an angle. My head seemed to be slightly cocked to one side, so he seemed to me to be even more at an angle. He walked fast and with purpose.

Prelude. Man. Man at an angle. Writing stuff at reception. New Prelude. They’re all just distractions, Steph. Attempts to distract the readers from admitting that you agreed to go back to Mordan House for a month. Right? Wrong, you frunkin’ know-it-all, reader! I hadn’t agreed at all. You want to know what I’d actually agreed to? Let Mr McKay tell you.

Mr McKay came back over with a key and said to me: “There you go. Stay in the hotel tonight. Don’t think about Mordan House. Get a good night’s rest and decide in the morning.”

"I knew the name instantly. I knew it as the name Philip had given to the spacecraft that had encountered the mysterious astronaut who had hammered on the side of the main airlock before it plunged into darkness. The spacecraft that was later found with three abandoned helmets inside. The spacecraft that I had looked up on the internet. The one that never existed"

As he spoke, I found I was distracted and my hand didn’t instantly move to take the key.

Oh, sure. Man. Man at an angle. Prelude. New Prelude. No. By a hard hat. A what? And Sellotape. Now, you’ve lost us!

I recognised the man who had walked in at an angle to my vision. At first I was unsure. Then I recognised the hard hat and the spectacles held together by Sellotape. I had heard him talking to his friend about me and about Mud Woman in a café on the day I had returned to Mordan House after being in hospital. I recognised him completely by the time he got to the receptionist and I recognised the voice too as he spoke.

“Annie, have you seen Susan anywhere? Was she meeting you after you get off work?”

“She said she would. But she hasn’t shown yet. I’m off in ten minutes. She’d usually be here waiting for me by now. You not seen her, Wullie?” asked the receptionist.

“No,” said Wullie looking down at the floor and biting on his lip. “My ma’s still got the half-child. Susan would usually have picked her up by now. She said she had some psychic reading to do, but I don’t know where.”

“Well, she never mentioned it to me,” said the receptionist. “She’s not one for being late though, your Susan. Try her mobile.”

“Tried it. No answer. And she’s got the hands-free too. It’s not like her no tae answer neither.”

Somehow the key had got into my hand. Somehow Mr McKay had registered that I wasn’t listening and looked round at the two people I was watching and listening to. Somehow I realised he was watching me as I watched them, and I self-consciously fiddled with the key as I felt it warm in my hand.

“Well,” said Mr McKay, “shall I see you down here for breakfast in the morning?”

“Yes. Breakfast. Thanks again.”

Somehow he was gone. And somehow all that was in my head was the name of Wullie’s missing wife: Susan. Psychic Psusan. Somehow he was gone. Wullie, that is. Moved off out of the hotel at a slant. Or was it me that was at an odd angle still? Still lopsided. No matter how much I tried to straighten myself. Still wondering why the world wouldn’t get its kinks out of itself, only to realise that I was the misshapen one and the world was cocking its head at me as I stood here all twisted. Somehow I noticed the receptionist was looking at me, studying me. As if wondering …

Wondering why you’re so intent on distracting? Intent on sqiuntiness. Squinty men, no less. Intent on New Preludes. Old Preludes. You’re not exactly helping, reader. Not exactly helping at all, you know.

What did help was sleep. What also helped was breakfast and the car drive back to Mordan House. A quiet car drive with very little said and with three envelopes in my lap.

Mordan House? Three envelopes? Told you! Bloody well told you! But you wouldn’t listen. Intent on distractions, so you were!

I didn’t need distractions. The way seemed quite clear. At Mordan House there would be one of two things waiting for me. My car alone in the driveway. Or two cars. Mine and Psychic Psusan’s red car. If her car was gone, then she’d left the place quite naturally and I would know that so much of all that was happening was just stuff going on in my head. The driveway, and what was in it, would give me so much clarity.

Trees. A turn-off from the main road. The sound of gravel. A narrow driveway. An open space. An old dilapidated house. One car. A Punto.

And that was it. There was no other car in the driveway.

Yet somehow I saw them almost instantly, as I said goodbye to Mr McKay. Little marks.

But you’re staying, aren’t you? Why can’t you just say it?

And in that moment I made up my mind about whether I should stay or go. Those little marks on the ground made me realise what to do.

What? What did you decide to do?

I looked at Mr McKay and held the three envelopes close to my chest. He knew by this gesture what I had decided.

Told you. Totally told you. Told. You. In fact, told you yesterday! Told you even before you’d told yourself!

I got out of the car and watched as Mr McKay’s car drove away, leaving me in Mordan House for one month more. One final month.

Unbelievable! Even though you know that this is all in your head, the product of a stalker’s mind, of all its mental aberrations, you still decide to return to the place of illness, rather than seek out wellness, Un-be-lieve-able!

And I moved over to the little marks on the ground that lay where the gravel ended and the grass began. The grass that headed down into the trees. And I saw that I was correct in thinking that they were fresh tyre marks heading down the slope. Heading down where no car had any reason to go.

Oh.

Yes, dear reader. Oh.

Next instalment: 63. I Meet Mud Woman

Monday, 18 October 2010

61. Astronauts and Actresses - Prelude


[This is a specially selected scene from the movie version of 'Nicole Kidman stars in: The Astronaut Dropped'.]

INTERIOR - HOTEL BAR - EVENING

The scene is a bar in a hotel within the town that neighbours Mordan House. There is a warm log fire blazing and the decor is old fashioned, full of tartan, sumptous red and green velvet upholstery, candles and ornate lampstands and shades. There are only a few people in the bar. In front of the fire are two sofas separated by a low wooden table. Mr McKay sits on one sofa with a small leather pouch beside him; Stephanie Fey is on the other. Mr McKay is a thin man in his fifties. He is balding and his hair is slicked back from his long, thin face. He keeps looking at an unlit cigar, starts to put it to his lips, then gets annoyed and puts it down. He wears very casual, bland clothes: grey trousers, a beige V-neck jumper with a white shirt underneath that's open at the collar. He is clean-shaven. Stephanie Fey, a redhead of profound and striking beauty, is also in casual clothes: jeans, long and baggy jumper, training shoes. Her hair is tied back. She holds a glass of brandy with both hands. She looks exhausted, somewhat defeated. Her eyes keep darting to the corners of the room as if looking for a camera. At one point, she looks directly into the film camera's lens, but doesn't appear to notice that it's a camera she's looking at.

Mr McKay
Stilly Stephanie - why do they call you that?

Stephanie
They?

Mr McKay
People in this town. Did'nt you know?

Stephanie
(Shrugs and looks at her brandy)
Long story.

Mr McKay
Shorten it then.

Stephanie looks directly at him, trying to size him up. Then she again glances nervously into one of the corners of the room before contemplating her glass again.

Stephanie
It's no big deal. Just my mum. My interfering mum, I should add. She started to call me that years ago. As a way of being condescending. And I have the wonderful luxury of being protected by her from afar. She regularly calls random people in this town to ask about me and, it would appear, to talk about me - and to pass on old nicknames that damage my reputation in the eyes of people I barely know and complete strangers that I haven't even met yet.

Mr McKay
Sounds like you don't need much help damaging your reputation, from what I've heard.

Stephanie glances at him, but clearly doesn't want to hold his gaze.

Stephanie
I'm not sure there's a short answer to that.

Mr McKay
It's just an empty house, you know. You shouldn't let your imagination run away with you.

Stephanie
Don't underestimate emptiness.

Mr McKay
Ha! That I won't argue with. That's why I'm offering you a proposition, Stephanie. It's kind of a way for you to take control again. Fancy it?

Stephanie
Fancy what?

Mr McKay puts his cigar up to his mouth, stops himself from lighting it and throws it down on the table angrily.

Mr McKay
Okay. Shortened version. Seems of late I've become the friend of toffs. Fallen in with a lucrative crowd, haven't I. Well, one lady in particular. Due to her, I meet more ladies and I meet their gentlemen friends too. Before you know it, I have associates in high places. They're all pretty young, really. Young lifestyles and more money than sense. No funny business - not at my age - all above board, you understand.

Stephanie
I can't see how I fit into this. I can't see how Mordan House fits into this! Does she want to buy the place?

Mr McKay
Buy it? Over my dead body!
(He looks around to make sure no-one is listening, leans forward and whispers)
No, no, no. That place is coming down, for sure. The land's what's valuable there.

Stephanie
So ...

Mr McKay
No, what they want is quite simple. Very simple, in fact. A party.

Stephanie
A what?

Mr McKay
I know, it sounds odd. But it's not. They want to hold a big party. A kind of theme party. You see, they're into this weird music. Clicks and cuts, they call it. I don't understand it. It's like music made out of mistakes. Scratches, glitches on a CD, radio noise. Pure, unadulterated rubbish, if you ask me!
(Stephanie frowns at him and turns up her nose.)
Look, the kind of noise that floats their boats is neither here nor there. The fact is they want a huge kind of 'rave thing' where they're all dressed up, where their DJ can play their weird music and where they can go a bit mad in the house and in the grounds. They wanted a place with atmosphere. Somewhere miles from anywhere. That's part of the appeal: having to travel to the middle of nowhere to get there. They seem to think the event'll be written up in magazines! Huh. Magazines!

Stephanie
These people must be really young.

Mr McKay
Well, this hoity-toity woman that I've fallen in with, she thinks she's young, but she's at the age where she should be thinking about settling down and cutting out the wild stuff, if you ask me.

Stephanie
(Shrugs)
Well, that's easier said than done sometimes. But I still don't see what this has to do with me?

Mr McKay
I need the place cleaned up. And I need someone to have the place the way they want it when they turn up. Parties next month. All you have to do is get the place into shape - empty out some of the garbage that's in it. Be there to see they have what they need. And be there when they turn up. I've written out all the instructions. You just have to follow them. After the parties done ...
(He looks around again for eavesdroppers)
...  the bulldozers move in. And you move out! No more Mordan House, for sure.

Stephanie
I still don't see how this benefits me.

Mr McKay
Come on, Stephanie! You're skint. Penniless. You've probably got a little bit more cash for grub and that's about it. I'll make it worth your while. I'll pay you a wage for the last month. When you move out, move back to civilisation, or wherever you go, then you'll have a little nest-egg to get you going. Look, these people are worth a fortune to me. A fortune! If I keep them sweet, all my property deals are going to pay off big time!

Stephanie
Sure, the money would be good, but it's the house ...

Mr McKay
What? You gonna let a daft old ruin get the better of you? How will you ever move on if you can't face up to something as daft as this? In one more month, you can walk away with your head held high!
(Knowingly)
Isn't it time, Stephanie, that you started to hold your head high again? Stop being so ... stilly, Stephanie? Here.
(Mr McKay takes two envelopes from the small leather pouch beside him and places them on the table.)
The instructions are in this envelope. Money for you in this one. Oh, almost forgot ...
(He takes out another envelope and puts it beside the other two.)
Invitations. You can go to the party too, if you like. Might be a nice way to end your time in Mordan House. My lady friend said it would be no problem, so long as you dress up and get into the spirit of things. Oof, rather you than me!

Stephanie
(Looking at the envelopes)
I need a moment to think.
(She drinks the last of her brandy)

Mr McKay
Have a moment. Have a few! I need a cigar. Trying to give up, but one won't kill me, will it? Oh, and they're allowed to smoke in the house, by the way! No blasted ban or anything! They love a good puff, that lot. As do I!

Mr McKay gets up and walks out with his unlit cigar in his mouth.

Stephanie looks at the envelopes, then looks up and around her, again appearing to look for cameras. Her gaze turns again to the three envelopes and she picks up the one with the invitations in it. She takes out an invitation. The card is bright, shining silver. On the front, in large lettters and in a highly futuristic font, are the words: Astronauts and Actresses.

Stephanie
(Whispered to herself)
That's the theme of the party? It can't be!

Mr McKay suddenly appears at the table again and throws the unlit cigar down on the table. Stephanie gets a fright.

Mr McKay
Can't believe you didn't try and stop me. I can't quit on my own, you know! Smokers need support to give up!
(He sits down on the sofa again)
So! Stephanie. What's it gonna be?

Stephanie breathes deeply and looks again at the words on the invitation, before suddenly looking up at a corner of the room behind her with a look of concern on her face. There's a TV there. The volume is turned down. The screen shows a news channel that's highlighting a space rocket on a launch pad. The wording beneath the moving image states: Launch of European space rocket New Prelude. Stephanie squint as if she's not sure that she's reading it correctly.

END SCENE.

Next instalment: 62. One Car in the Driveway: Mine

Sunday, 17 October 2010

60. Three Cars in the Driveway


"There was a shadowy movement of a door, a dark figure appearing in amongst the grey and brown banks of ill-lit night, at first hunched as it alighted from the car, then fully upright as it moved forward towards the glare of the car's headlights. Then a moment that shifted speedily: the figure's black silhouette moved into the white light that then washed it clean of its shadows and a vaguely familiar face moved towards me where I sat in my car, motionless and frail"

First car: mine.

Second car: Psychic Psusan's. I presumed. It was a red, prissy affair that caught my eye, and I think it registered with me as I ran towards my own car because of its brightness in the recently-fallen darkness, and because I hadn't noticed that she'd had a car when she first appeared at my front door. Yet with my mind so full of desperation to flee Mordan House, there was little more that I cared to acknowledge about the sight of this second car in my driveway.

And a third car. This one I had to acknowledge more than that of Psychic Psusan's, standing as it did between the driveway and the main road, blocking my only exit from Mordan House. When I saw it, I slammed on my breaks, a pulse throbbing and aching in my neck.

There is a certain point when bright headlights hit you unexpectedly, where you feel, in that moment of shock, that the glare has opened you up, piereced you and cleaved you open from surface to soul. Helpless and exposed, you are momentarily disarmed. 

Lost in the vulnerability of that moment, all that was really in my mind was that the person I least wanted to see - and the person I trusted the least - was again in my driveway, and at a time when I least wanted to encounter her. She had been there when I'd fallen down the side of The Clansman and lay in a soaking wet heap; she'd been there when I'd been rummaging in a bin for a hat; when I slept in my car on a suburban street, it had been her house that I was infront of; and when I ran out of the trees, slightly drunk, and with a ghostly apparition in pursuit of me. Always there. Always when I was entirely exposed, when I was needy and showing my underlying damage. And here again, I thought, was that selfsame bitch, ready to survey me while at my weakest. Mrs Ormsley.

There was a shadowy movement of a door, a dark figure appearing in amongst the grey and brown banks of ill-lit night, at first hunched as it alighted from the car, then fully upright as it moved forward towards the glare of the car's headlights. Then a moment that shifted speedily: the figure's black silhouette moved into the white light that then washed it clean of its shadows and a vaguely familiar face moved towards me where I sat in my car, motionless and frail.

Not her. No. Someone else. But who? Familiar, yes. Somewhat. Then a moment of recognition came to me. A hand moved over to the switch for the electric window and the act of pressing it pained me in my weakened state.

"Still alive, eh?" said the male voice.

"I'm not staying anymore. I'm leaving. I've had enough. Move your car."

"But we have a deal. I need you to stay. At least for a little while longer. I've got a little job for you," said Mr McKay, the owner of Mordan House and, technically-speaking, my employer.

"Not her. No. Someone else. But who? Familiar, yes. Somewhat. Then a moment of recognition came to me. A hand moved over to the switch for the electric window and the act of pressing it pained me in my weakened state"

Before me, the intrusive glare of the headlights remained. Not once flinching as they surveyed every corner of me. Such are the locks and chains of this world and of every life, I thought. The apparatus of confinement hidden within circumstances, atmospheres, places. Every artefact of the world, every event, every commitment, every obsession, trapping us. From the moment I arrived in Mordan House I have been confined. I am not free and I have not been free for such a very long time. Why have I not before looked for the surveillance cameras that must be concealed somewhere, filming my every move in this prison? They must be somewhere. And no doubt somewhere there is a person watching the rushes as another edits 'The Astronaut Dropped', and another drafts the script, firing on scenes to an actress somewhere who imagines herself recreating me on a set somewhere, or on some location.

I was not free to say 'no' to Mr McKay. I was not free to move until someone told me to do so. The glare of the car's headlights saw all of me and I waited for the unknown director to call "Action!" from within the neverending, impenetrable shadows on the other side of the light.

Next instalment: 61. Astronauts and Actresses - Prelude

Saturday, 16 October 2010

59. "I'll Gobble You Up, Stephanie Fey!"

"This world that is just a metaphor for my own inner predicament. A code written in landscapes and events, in time and in the eyes of others. Breathe out a wrong idea and a demon visits your home. But love with an enchantment that stirs the angels of this world and flowers will tumble down out of the sky onto the lids of your eyes"

As I was to find out, in trying to decide what to do – in amongst the blurred lines between dream and reality, between subjective self and the physical world – I'd once again made the wrong choice.

The corridor between the front door of Mordan House and the door to my suite of rooms shimmered in my vision while Psychic Psusan walked along it, as if the shadows were drifting in from outside in a quivering form, light and dark shaken with some kind of agitation. Or was it every thought in my mind, every feeling and sensation darting like tremulous little puppies over the skirting boards, the cracks in the plaster, the cornicing, the slats of the wooden banister, the shadowy locks of Psusan’s hair, having first ricocheted off every surface behind my eyes?

Where, oh where, was the line between self and the world? Wasn’t there a time when I walked that line quite deftly? Oh, I was so far away from knowing the answer to any of these questions!

But what I do know is that Psychic Psusan spoke – yet even her words seemed to shake, the syllables appearing gnarled and frayed at the edges. Did she say something about using the bathroom before conducting the séance? She probably did, as that was where she disappeared. I half listened at the door; half looked around me at the half empty space, and half hoped for at least half an answer as to why I seemed entirely prepared to go through with this act so readily. No sound from the house; no sound from the bathroom. Not even half of one. I recall having the following thought in my head and some inner laughter vibrating just like the sound of another's laughter can do when you’re drunk: Psychic Psusan’s right: she is indeed the clairvoyant with the silent ‘P’ – in more ways than one!

“That’s me now!”

Exclamation marks seemed to collide as Psychic Psusan, refreshed, appeared at my shoulder. I saw a flash of feline eyes, words that appeared to rub against my leg insidiously as sharp nails dug into her bag to bring out the necessary esoteric paraphernalia to conduct the séance. The zip of her bag as it opened made a sound in my ears like a spitting hiss, and along my arms I felt a tickle of fur that caused my fingers to tighten instinctively.

There was some degree of chatter between us, but it was all mixed up with my own attempts to rationalise why I was so thoughtlessly going through with this, without any consideration of the pros and …

“Is this the best room? I mean, the room with the most pstrange goings-on – the most psychic disturbances?” I seem to recall her asking.

… cons? Was this whole experience just me, the occurrences of my own life spilled out into the world ..?

“Actually, no, I don’t think so. There’s a room with an old radio in it. It’s upstairs.” Me. My voice. Sort of.

She raised an eyebrow. Was she set to pounce? “A radio? That’s … hm … very …”

… This world that is just a metaphor for my own inner predicament. A code written in landscapes and events, in time and in the eyes of others. Breathe out a wrong idea and a demon visits your home. But love with an enchantment that stirs the angels of this world and flowers will tumble down out of the sky onto the lids of your eyes …

Ellipses collided. Legs became tangled in my vision too as we walked up the stairs in the steadily dimming light. Old sounds of living agedness and new sounds of living emotions both coiled around us. Cats. Yes, like cats.  The room of the psychic occurrences opened before us and the atmosphere within it hummed. The very air in the room appeared to me to be moving, a living thing turning in its invisibility, with its sinuous, breathing presence all too apparent in every shadow and every surface. Even the old brown and cream radio had a sense about it of waiting to leap into life. What was this sensation? This one of poise? Of silent skulking?

"I saw a flash of feline eyes, words that appeared to rub against my leg insidiously as sharp nails dug into her bag to bring out the necessary esoteric paraphernalia to conduct the séance. The zip of her bag as it opened made a sound in my ears like a spitting hiss, and along my arms I felt a tickle of fur that caused my fingers to tighten instinctively"

“Well, this pshould be fine. Yes, I can psense the electricity in the air. I’m psure this will produce a pstirring and insightful pséance. Or maybe this will come to be more of an exorcism. We’ll psoon psee!

Exorcism? But if Psychic Psusan found nothing, then would it turn out to be me that was exorcised? For then, all these events would surely be all products of me for sure. Me! Writ large and with terrifying vividness!

Italics slid into one another pell-mell. At some point, I recollect that we were all set to go. We were seated. There were candles. Shadowy objects on a table that we sat beside. The radio near by. Psusan's hands clasping mine. She began to mumble words that my mind could barely capture. Anyone? Presence? Call? Who? Who? Who? Speak? Answer? Answer? Were these the words? All disconnected though. Freely making up their own rights and logic as they saw fit.

Clauses became confused as so many words died within the atmosphere. And claws became mixed up on paws: mine clipped; Psusan's lengthened and sharpened. And with a tight grip on me. I wanted to pull away. To break the spell that was starting to exist within an already existing spell created by me.

I spoke: “Who invited you here? What was her name?” Psusan's fragmented words continued. I felt giddy and tired and I sat back trying now to establish some distance between me and her, but it was the growing fear in me that was demanding the distance. “Was it Lizzie? Was that her name? Can you remember what she looked like?”

"Anyone? Presence? Call? Who? Who? Who? Speak? Answer? Answer? Mud. Mud. She was covered in mud."

“What? Who? The woman who invited you here? She was covered in mud?”

"And she looked up at the sky. And she laughed as she looked. She laughed before she began to sing."

Why did it not seem like Psusan who was saying these words? Though I knew it wasn't me. And it wasn't the radio to one side of us either.

"Anyone? Presence? Call? Who? Who? Who? Speak? Answer? Answer? Mud. Mud. She was covered in mud"

“To sing? What did she sing? Tell me what song she sang.” But I knew what song it would be. Yet I needed it confirmed to me. My grip on her hands was all of a sudden tighter than her grip on mine. “Tell me the song.”

There was a crackle in the air. Did it come from Psusan? A crackle like radio static. The sound of a lost signal trying to connect through air and through space.  But even this wasn't from the radio. It came instead from the psychic sitting before me in the half-light. And not her own voice. It was that same male voice that I had heard before in that very same room and reverberating through the house at times also.

Psusan's lips moved in time to the bursts of static, as well as to the sounding of the words. Static was to her facial expressions like coughing or throat-clearing, as if it was rising up from her stomach and finding a way out through her mouth. The sung words though were unmistakable and eerie and all too familiar: “Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, never let it fade away. Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, save it for a rainy day …”

This again.  Back here. No matter how much I tried to climb away inside from all of this, it still refused to leave me or to leave Mordan House. Still my insanity continued to play itself out like a scratchy old record that repeats and repeats and repeats.

"There was a crackle in the air. Did it come from Psusan? A crackle like radio static. The sound of a lost signal trying to connect through air and through space.  But even this wasn't from the radio. It came instead from the psychic sitting before me in the half-light. And not her own voice. It was that same male voice that I had heard before in that very same room"

But then it all changed. I saw Psusan suddenly transform, completely in the control of the messages coming through her as if on radio waves. It was clear that she was now being tuned by some unknown, unseeable presence inside her. Hiss. Crackle. Analogue noise and barbed aural confusion poured out of her mouth, before she stopped and her eyes arched, filled suddenly with a presence, a personality. Still monophonic, stripped of depth and clarity, I heard a female voice, as if on a radio station finally tuned in, say: “I can see you, Stephanie Fey. Oh, yes. I can see you and the dead heavens can see you too. And they are ready to gobble you up! You foul little stench, you‘re so ripe, you dirty, disgusting disease!”

“Who are you?” Did I say these words? They came from somewhere. It must have been me.

“I am the one who’s coming back. Back here to reclaim my home again. I am the creator of the dead and the conjurer of the dead. And the one who brings the dead heavens down to the ground. And we’re going to devour all the air inside of you, Stephanie Fey, and claim you for our own!”

Yes, yes, yes, as I was to find out, in trying to decide what to do – in amongst the blurred lines between dream and reality, between subjective self and the physical world – I'd once again made the wrong choice. So true. Yes, so true.

And Psychic Psusan had made the wrong choice too. She had sat close to the window. A light appeared so speedily that I had barely registered it before it collided with the glass and the frame of the window, and they both shattered, exploding sharp shards everywhere. The shards themselves were lightly touched with a firey reflection, a white and bright glow, quite beautiful as they flew by me and over me. White mingled with white, light dazzled light, and they fed each other, as the shape and aura of a dead astronaut clambered through the window, instantly gripping Psusan's shoulders and in a movement so speedy in its violence – so fantastic and horrific that I did nothing – it dragged her back out through the window in one clean, horrifyingly cold motion. I didn't move. I didn't scream. I made no sound, no gesture. All I was aware of was the newfound breeze on the palms of my hands where just before there was the warm, tight presence of another.

"Still monophonic, stripped of depth and clarity, I heard a female voice, as if on a radio station finally tuned in, say: 'I can see you, Stephanie Fey. Oh, yes. I can see you and the dead heavens can see you too. And they are ready to gobble you up! You foul little stench, you‘re so ripe, you dirty, disgusting disease!'”

Then the sound of silence like hands around a throat and I saw the empty chair close beside me, almost with its hands up to its face to prevent it seeing what had just taken place. It seemed that Psusan had been – quite simply and quite conclusively – plucked.

I remembered my own car sitting invitingly on the driveway. In my tense stillness, my shock, the thought of the waiting vehicle came to me like a rough jostle on my arm. It was as if it was calling to me, like an escape pod on another planet, or in a spaceship as its hull is hammered by an unseen force that has appeared within the ghastly void from out of nowhere. And I started to run. No other thought in my head but escape. It was so pure in its selfishness, in its lack of doubt, that I ran in its unconfused beauty and I could have ran within it forever.

If only it had lasted.

Next instalment: 60. Three Cars in the Driveway

Saturday, 25 September 2010

58. Goodbye Mordan House, Hello Mud Woman


"I would live with it. I had lived with so much over the last few years. I could live with returning to Mordan House for the last time, I could live with gathering up my possessions into the Punto, and I could live with doing it all alone and without Lizzie. After all, I could live with having no planned destination. I could live with having no plans for my future at all. But what I was unsure of was how I was to deal with the woman who appeared unexpectedly at my door"
Let me get one thing clear before we go any further: I am not Mud Woman.

And, when I first overheard those two men in the cafe, I had not heard of Mud Woman before, let alone had any idea who she was, or why she should be seen in various places around town and the surrounding hills, covered in mud and forever digging holes. Perhaps with a male partner. Perhaps not.

I’ve learned since then that she was the talk of the town and local newspapers were full of sightings of her and stories of her, but I had heard none of them as I recuperated.

No, not me. And not known by me either. And it wasn’t something I felt I had to care about. I had issues of my own to deal with. The issue, for example, of Dizzie Lizzie.

“I want you to read a blog I’ve been writing,” I said while sitting in my dressing gown in a chair in the hospital. I shouldn’t be doing this, I was thinking. “I want you to read about what’s been happening to me since I left Glasgow,” I clarified. I shouldn’t be telling anyone who actually knows me any of this stuff, my mind said as it barked and chased its tail in agitation. “Once you know everything, you can decide if you still want to know me,” I declared with a degree of finality. I don’t even want to know me, came a wave of thought crashing down over those words as soon as they had been uttered – not a new thought, of course, but more an underlying and unmistakeable impression.

Lizzie, chewing a bright red bottom lip with a visible gleaming white tooth, cocked her head at me. Two garishly varnished fingers slowly and carefully took the scrap of paper with the blog address written on it, handling it as if it were a snotty hanky or a shoe with poo. The next thing I remember was the sight of her blonde hair bobbing with a tremendous lustre, swaying to the musical sound of her heels clicking on the hospital floor as she left the room. Then I recall the length of hours, that turned into days, of wondering if she would return, gradually merging into the drawn out realisation that my only friend in the world would not return. Ever.

"Two garishly varnished fingers slowly and carefully took the scrap of paper with the blog address written on it, handling it as if it were a snotty hanky or a shoe with poo"

Why should she? Lizzie was a fragile thing in her own way. She possessed a mind within which only a few avenues were open. Those that were open were fully open, and she hurtled down them confidently and at top speed – but any dark streets off those avenues were ‘no go’ areas for Lizzie. And she would resist the lure of going down them without hesitation or remorse. She had endured my obsession with Kidman by refusing to deal with it; she had dealt with my court case by shrugging her shoulders and acting as if she was watching some tedious theatrical production. But now I had pointedly asked her to make a choice. Her choice – probably taken without a second thought – was to continue pacing the avenues that she knew best: those of fashion (Oh, yes, she bows and scrapes before that false God!), pampering, men (Yes, she does a lot of those!), playing the ukelele (Yes, she actually does that!) and avoiding any friends who fell pregnant, as if the condition was catching (Yes, I suspect she may actually believe that to be true!). That was Lizzie. And so Lizzie would stay. And so Lizzie would stay away. I couldn’t blame her. But I loved her and her silly head dearly. And I missed her. And there was a bruise that I felt, as if it were under blankets, deep down inside, beneath the subtle warmth of recuperation.

But I would live with it. I had lived with so much over the last few years. I could live with returning to Mordan House for the last time, I could live with gathering up my possessions into the Punto, and I could live with doing it all alone and without Lizzie. After all, I could live with having no planned destination. I could live with having no plans for my future at all. But what I was unsure of was how I was to deal with the woman who appeared unexpectedly at my door.

I didn't hear a knock at the door, instead I heard a shout. The front door was open at the time, so too was the main door to my suite of rooms. I was busy loading essential possessions into the car at the time, so the doors were open to make the ferrying of objects back and forth easier.

At first, the female voice shouting "Hello? He-llo!" filled me with terror and I froze on the spot with a box of cooking utensils in my arms. The voice of the Imaginary Kidman had seemed so real to me. It had depth and resonance and brightness and spontaneity in it, just like real voices, so the terror lay in the strong possibility that this was not a real person, but something conjured up by me. Within that frozen moment, my mind wondered what it should do: move towards it? acknowledge it? ignore it? run at it brandishing something heavy?

"The voice of the Imaginary Kidman had seemed so real to me. It had depth and resonance and brightness and spontaneity in it, just like real voices, so the terror lay in the strong possibility that this was not a real person, but something conjured up by me"

"Is there anyone there? It's me! It's 7 o'clock! I'm here for my appointment! He-llo?"

I moved. Ever so. Slowly. Into the corridor. And looked. Down. Towards the front door.

Shadows. Light. A silhouetted figure shuffling in the doorway. Browny autumn trees behind her. Gradually starting to drop their leaves. I walked. Ever so. Slowly. Still. Down. The corridor.

"Hello?" Her voice again. This time I knew it was a voice that I hadn't heard before. That, at least, was something of a relief. Then the sight of slightly greying short hair, colourful loose-fitting clothes, lots of accessories, a large bag of some wooly material. "Is that you?"

"Who are you?" I asked, as I came out of the shadows, at the same time as she became clearer to me.

"Oh," she exclaimed. "You're not her. Uh, where's the other woman? I have an appointment to see the other woman."

I felt the temptation to say that Kidman was gone and that both the Imaginary Lizzie and the real Dizzie Lizzie were gone too. And that, for my own part, I had been gone, but I was now somewhat on my way back. But I was trying not to be too nutty to myself as well as to others, so I said: "What other woman? Who did you say you are?"

She grunted as she turned her face down to her large cloth bag and started to fish around inside of it. At last she pulled out a card that I could just make out in the dimming light. "I met with another woman who was here a few days ago," she continued, keen that she should try and make sense to me. "She phoned me and asked me to come here tonight. Is she not here? Has there been a mix up of some sort?""

Three things then happened in very quick succession. I looked down at the card and saw the words:

Psychic Psusan – the clairvoyant with the silent 'P'. Fortune-telling, seances, exorcisms and healing. No supernatural case too big or too small for the woman with the silent 'P'.

Still trying to take in the words on the card and understand how they related to me and how the woman had come to be standing at the door of Mordan House, I looked up, sure that I was frowning and sure that my mouth had dropped open. At that moment, running through the trees in the background, just a little way from where the Punto was parked on the gravel, I saw what I can only describe as an apparition covered in mud from head to toe. A woman quite clearly with long hair. Clothed, but filthy, and running along the treeline in the hope of not being seen.

"I saw what I can only describe as an apparition covered in mud from head to toe. A woman quite clearly with long hair. Clothed, but filthy, and running along the treeline in the hope of not being seen"

And over the sight of this phenomenon, almost like a voice-over, I heard the woman before me say: "That's right. I'm Psychic Psusan. Just llike it says on the card. I'm here to perform a seance in your house. To connect with the spirits of the dead." And she grinned, a big phony, toothy grin that both disarmed and disconcerted me.

The third thing that happened – that wasn't really a thing or a happening at all, but rather a shift in sensibility – was that I saw the Punto get smaller and smaller in my mind's eye.

Weakly and with little awareness of what I was really saying, I said: "I suppose you'd better come in then, hadn't you." And my body moved to one side and Psychic Psusan walked into Mordan House. In the trees before me, there was nothing but trunks and leaves and grass, all shimmering slightly as the shifting day dappled the world with unknowable magic. Momentarily, the logic of cars and travel and leaving seemed tired and pedestrian and unreal. Yet, as I was to find out, in trying to decide what to do – in amongst the blurred lines between dream and reality, between subjective self and the physical world – I'd once again made the wrong choice.

Next instalment: 59. "I'll Gobble You Up, Stephanie Fey!"

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

57. Rumours of Mud


[This is another choice scene from the screenplay of the movie version of ‘Nicole Kidman stars in: The Astronaut Dropped’, with Nicole Kidman having a ‘bit part’ as herself, supporting Julianne Moore in  her Academy award nominated role as the deep, complicated and somewhat tortured Stephanie Fey, a right royal redheaded stunner of indeterminate age.]

INTERIOR – CAFÉ IN NEIGHBOURING TOWN – DAY

A cosy little café in the town that lies a few miles from Mordan House. The café is busy. There are few available seats and there is a nice healthy din. A sumptuous redheaded woman sits on a stool at the bench that runs along the café window. She has her back to the café as she looks out of the window drinking a cup of coffee. The window is full of condensation. At a table nearby sit two men. One of the men is around 30 years of age. He has a gash on his nose, wears Wellington boots and is called Scott. He toys with a paper napkin. The other man, Wullie, is in his early 40s. He wears a casual zipper jacket and a bicycle helmet on his head. He has a pair of spectacles held together with sticking tape.

Scott
(Contemplates his friends spectacles and helmet with a wry smile)
Should’ve gone tae Specsavers.

Wullie
It’s not bloody funny!
(Looks at the gash on Scott’s nose)
Look at the state o’ you!

Scott
Ach, a wee bit o’ blood. I’ve tons more o’ the stuff.

Wullie
You’ll huv none o’ the stuff if a’ this continues. One o’ these days you’ll slip o’er and bloody well die, so you will! Then where will ye be?

Scott
(Stretches out his boots and wiggles them from side to side)
Deid in ma boots!

Wullie
Aye. Me alang wi’ ye tae, nae doubt. Me and this helmet’s a’ that’s keepin’ me fae the grave. Council’s tae blame, if you ask me! Shysters! Arse holes!

Scott
Maybe. Maybe.

Wullie
Maybe? Got tae be! Busted specs. Sore heid. Coccyx buggered tae. And all because of …

Scott
Mud.

Wullie
Aye! Mud! Everywhere! Bastards …

Scott
You know, when I slipped, my life flashed before ma eyes and ye know wit I saw, Wullie? Jerry Springer. Jerry soddin’ Springer! Whit’s that a’ aboot?

Wullie
Aye, ye know yer life’s jiggered if ye see Jerry bloody Springer in yer last moments.

Scott
I think it was an association. You know, mud-slinging …

Wullie
It’s cos yer a wee wuman at heart, Scott. An absolute wee wuman!

Scott
(Scott sits back and fold his arms)
Away you and yer rubbish patter go bugger off. Um no wearin’ a bike hat! Look at me, defyin’ death. Lookin’ it right in the eye! Um sayin’, come on ya bastard! Make me slip o’er again, why don’t ye! Wire intae me again, why don’t ye just!

Wullie
Easy for you. Uv got half a wife and half a kid tae support. Death’s nae option for me. Even half a death and um screwed. Hence the hard hat, Scottie boy! Pro-tec-tion!

Scott
Cannae be the council anyhoo. Nae wuman diggin’ the roads, Wullie. The council can account for the mud, but no’ Mud Wuman! She’s somethin’ else that wan!

Wullie
Aye. Mud Wuman. Part o’ folklore nearly. A strange wuman covered in mud, diggin’ holes all over town and all over the hills. Lookin’ for whit? That’s the question. Diggin' for what?

Scott
(Folds the paper napkin into a small ball distractedly)
Who knows, Wullie. Who knows. Lookin’ tae kill a’ the people who slip and die on the mud she leaves a’ ‘er the place, that’s whit! Uh heard that there's sometimes a man wi' 'er. Mud Man an' Mud Wuman, no less! It's him that wets the earth so they can dae a' that diggin' efter. That's why we're a' slippin'. It's no the mud. It's the wet mud!

Wullie
Aye. Heard that wan tae, Scotty. Rumour hus it tae that it’s the ginger lass. The wan fae up Mordan way. She’s a total nut-job, that wan apparently. Her heid’s looser than a hooker’s undies!

Scott becomes silently animated. He starts to nod his head in the direction of the woman sitting on the stool and he waves his arms to indicate to Wullie to stop talking. The woman in the stool glances round briefly and Scott immediately stops gesturing. Wullie realises that the redheaded woman is the ‘ginger lass’ that he has been referring to.

Scott
(Speaking so the woman will hear)
Aye, but … that’s … no ma thinkin’ … or your’s fae that matter, Wullie. Salt o’ the earth, that wuman, um sure a’ it. Pretty as a picture tae, uh hear.

Wullie
(Realising what Scott is indicating)
Eh, aye, Scott. That'll be a red picture, uh guess.
 (Scott kicks Wullie under the table. Wullie winces)
Oh, ya ..! 
(Grimaces at Scott and starts to speak nicely)
Um, aye … lovely bird, um sure. Lovely. Wiz it no you that telt me that horrible rumour anyhoo?

Scott
(Indignant)
Bloody wisnae!

The woman on the stool gets up to leave. Her stool makes a loud, angry scraping sound on the floor. We can see now that it is indeed the delectable Stephanie Fey, the warped and slightly ludicrous heroine of our tale. She moves towards the door without looking in the direction of the two men she has overheard speaking about her.

Wullie
(Watching her leave and raising his voice slightly so that she might hear)
No? Must’ve been on Jerry bloody Springer then …
(Wullie stifles a laugh)

Scott
(In a loud, admonishing whisper)
You shut up. Leave her be. Jeez! An' you wonder why yiv only got half a wife an' half a wean? Helmet heid!
(Scott screws up the napkin and bounces it off Wullie’s helmet.)

Stephanie Fey steps out into the street. Her eyebrows are knitted and she looks lost in thought. As she walks along the busy street, she glances across the road at a stationery figure who appears to be watching her. The woman looks remarkably like Nicole Kidman. Steph glances away, discounting the image.

END SCENE

Next instalment: 58. Goodbye Mordan House, Hello Mud Woman

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

56. I Hope and Allow

 

"I told her about my website, my blog from a haunted house: Nicole Kidman stars in ‘The Astronaut Dropped’. I kept the details of it to myself and just told her where to find it and to read it. She bit her lip and fiddled with her hands"

Convalescing is a time of looking at flowers and their proud open faces, their tall stems, the way breezes shape and inspire them; while inside, the convalescent nurtures broken stems, frayed and closed petals, and worries at the wind damaging their already haggard, feeble face. So it has been for me. I look at the world around me, and I slowly, slowly endeavour to be more like the natural objects of this world.

No. Endeavour is too strong a word – there’s too much effort implied by it. I plan? No. I attempt? No, still effort involved in that. There’s no effort taking place in me that I’m aware of. I hope and I allow. Yes, I hope and allow. I mostly fail, of course. But, for humans, becoming natural is a life-long pursuit – not just something that you do for a month or so after an asthma attack that hospitalises you.

That night – the night of no gravity and the astronaut invasion of Mordan House – Lizzie did the right thing and used her mobile phone to call for an ambulance – “I did the right thing!” she exclaimed with girlish glee when she told me what she’d done. But it wasn't an ambulance that came to my rescue – it was a helicopter. Owned by the Scottish health service and able to to get to me and get me to a hospital quicker than an ambulance. None of which I remember at all. That night of my full-blown asthma attack, Lizzie also found my inhaler and tried to squeeze it into my mouth, pressing down on the trigger to try and get some of the chemical into my system – “I used the entire can!” she exclaimed and then chewed her bottom lip, partly wondering if that was the right word or the right thing to have done.

"Convalescing is a time of looking at flowers and their proud open faces, their tall stems, the way breezes shape and inspire them; while inside, the convalescent nurtures broken stems, frayed and closed petals, and worries at the wind damaging their already haggard, feeble face"

These words of Lizzie's are probably the first that I recall being said to me after I came round in the hospital. Although I had come round several times before then, I didn’t really remember doing so. Apparently I slept for a week and all I vaguely recall are the occasional blur of faces moving round my bed in my fitful states of consciousness. Who were they? Hospital staff? Lizzie? Both, I guess. That’s if they are real recollections at all. I mention them at the same time as roundly doubting them.

I had been exhausted for so long prior to the attack. I see that now. My brain had been bulging with thought, clamouring noises and congested feelings all colliding inside me, so much emotional and psychological pounding going on – for I don’t know how long! Since the time things started to go wrong with Philip? Certainly from the time when things did indeed go very wrong with Philip. And all growing through my obsession with Kidman – poor, poor Kidman! – and this house, this damned house that I’ve now returned to.

Now that I look back I see how much I was trying to climb over a wave of feeling that was desperately trying to drag me down. What a battle inside! Eventually, what a defeat for me, too! I thought I was holding it together, but something inside needed to delude me in that way – even in the face of the opposing forces rising up against me. What else could I do? The urge to survive was strong, but the damage inside was stronger. That’s all clear as crystal to me now.

The events of my last blog entry happened over a month ago and I wrote it up as soon as I left the hospital and returned to Mordan House. But I suppose I need to tell you what has happened over the last four weeks. Things have changed since the events of that last entry – spectacularly changed, I should say! – and I need to tell you how.

"I had been exhausted for so long. I see that now. My brain had been bulging with thought, clamouring noises and congested feelings all colliding inside me, so much emotional and psychological pounding going on – for I don’t know how long! Since the time things started to go wrong with Philip? Certainly from the time when things did indeed go very wrong with Philip. And all growing through my obsession with Kidman – poor, poor Kidman!"

One particular conversation between me and Lizzie will get the ball rolling, so let me wind back to a couple of days after I’d regained consciousness. I was starting to get a little bit of strength back and I could pull myself over to the chair in my hospital room with some ease, and I would sit there and start to imagine being normal again. A key part of recovery, I believe: imagining stages that are ahead of you and starting to move towards them, both inside and out. Lizzie came into the room and I was struck by the spleandour of her. How delicious she looked, but how out of place too! There was nothing and no-one in this part of the world that was like her. She was preened and coutured to a level that took your breath away. Like Monroe but with fire and bravura. Like Hepburn but with haunting, witch-like eyes. Every inch scented and buffed and polished to streamlined, blonde-haired, long-nailed perfection. On seeing her, my bottom lip dropped like an elevator. Beyond her looks, Lizzie sounded the way she looked with an accent of pristine, refined elegance, but had the sense of humour of a saloon-drinking whore, and she couldn't help but exercise it immediately.

“No, no, it can’t be true! Stephanie Fey dead? Why didn’t the nurse tell me, instead of letting me walk in here to find the bed empty? What have they done with my one and only friend? I need to see her rotting, stinking, stiff-arsed corpse in order to say goodbye to the faulty-breathing bitch! I really do! Until I smell her dead, old, rancid bod I’ll never feel that I’ve said farewell to the thick old tart! And she seemed to be getting better too! She seemed stronger. She seemed to be recovering. Oh, it’s oh so cruel! Cruel, I tell you!”

“Yes, Lizzie, alright. Ha ha, the world's laughing. Job done,” I drawled.

Then she looked over at me in the chair. “Ah, there you are! Not dead? Bummer!

She sat on the edge of the bed, her face a picture of genuine warmth and concern, and we talked about how I was feeling and a number of forgettable, pleasant nothing-very-muches.

Then I said what had been on my mind since the moment I opened my eyes. I had wanted to ask her this for days, but I'd had no courage to confront it. Now, I did: “Before I passed out in Mordan House, Lizzie. You mentioned something to me. About something you saw above the trees. You remember?”

“Oh, yes. That. Stinky little brats! What pricks!”

“Brats? What do you mean? What exactly did you see? You said you saw a shining figure. Or something like that. How did you describe it?”

“It was late at night. I didn’t know what I was seeing, of course. I saw it though when I went back to Morbid House to get some things for you. Right there, it was. Waving in the breeze.” And she waved her arms around like children do when they pretend to be the wind in school plays.

"A balloon thing. It was a balloon. You remember those Michelin man things – those big inflatable white figures that advertised those tyres? One of them had been attached to a tree outside of your house. It was a prank. I’m sorry. I hated having to tell you"

“What?” I asked suspiciously, now dreading what it was she was going to say. “What did you see?”

“Of course, at the time it looked like an astronaut hanging in space or something. But I could see what it really was."

There was an uncomfortable silence. Lizzie looked away as if she knew what I was thinking. I wondered for a moment if she knew something of the events in Mordan House. I looked away too.

Then Lizzie said: “Some balloon thing, if you must know. It was a balloon. You remember those Michelin man things – those big inflatable white figures that advertised those car tyres? One of them had been attached to a tree outside of your house. It was a prank. I’m sorry, Steph. I hated having to tell you, but I wasn’t sure if you remembered what I said that night. I hoped you hadn’t.”

I said nothing. Had I survived only in order to get here? In the hope that it was actually all real? And not just a disturbed, damaged imagination? Only to find this? I felt sick. Totally and unforgettably sick. So sick that I almost did feel like throwing up. I must have changed colour because Lizzie put one hand upon my hand, while the other she played with the corners of the bed.

“Listen,” she said. “I’ve been to the local town out your way. What’s it called? Monck? Ponck?” I shook my head. “Anyway, I’ve spoken to a couple of people there. And I know a little bit about what’s been going on. It was a just a stupid prank. Some of the children had heard what was being said about that house and what you were seeing there. You must have said something to someone and word got round. Hell, it’s just what was being said – I mean, how important is that! Only you can know the truth. The local garage had one of those balloons left over from years back and they put it there as a laugh. Ha ha, huh!”

"I said nothing. Had I survived in order to get here? In the hope that it was actually all real? And not just a disturbed, damaged imagination? Only to find this. I felt sick. Totally and unforgettably sick. So sick that I almost did feel like throwing up. I must have changed colour because she put one hand on my hand and with the other she played with the corners of the bed"

Two things in my head as she spoke: that bitch Ormsley and my unguarded words to her the night I was drunk in the woods at Mordan House, and also some vague musings on truth. So, Lizzie thought I would know the truth about events at Mordan House better than others. Me? Huh! That’s a laugh! What a bleedin’ giggle! Funny girl, this Dizzie Lizzie, funny, funny girl!

Funny also that I suspect it was this thought of the astronaut being real and another person having seen it that had sustained my recovery to this point, that allowed me to get the rest, the internal healing, that I needed. And where had it got me to? I'd arrived at another point of pointlessness, that’s where! Another joke of life. The astronaut that Lizzie had seen had just been a shiny white balloon from an old advertising campaign from years ago!

She saw the look on my face – although I can only presume what it was: despair, blankness? In response to whatever that look was, she scowled at me and kicked one of the legs of my chair.

“Screw it! Screw the bleedin’ lot of it!” she said in a typically fiery and hardship-slugging way. That was Lizzie: she slugged hardship; hardship always doubled-up at one of her slugs. She knew where to hit hardship so that it hurt.

“I want you to read something,” I said. She cocked her head at me like a little bird in a tree that has just heard a curious sound. “Read?” Yes, it was the thought of reading that made her cock her head, much more than the thought of what it was I wanted her to take in. Reading was not quite Lizzie’s thing. So I told her about my website, my blog from a haunted house: Nicole Kidman stars in ‘The Astronaut Dropped’. I kept the details of it to myself and just told her where to find it and to read it. She bit her lip and fiddled with her hands. It was a challenge for her, I knew.

It was a challenge for me also. To let Lizzie read my innermost thoughts and delusions. But she had been there at the height of my traumas over Philip and over Kidman – surely she could handle it. Or would she think that I had gone so far that I was beyond saving? Was it different to think of everything that comprises me when you're on the outside? But to see it all from the inside, would that be too much for her?

My answer came slowly, but also rather quickly in a way.

Next instalment: 57. Rumours of Mud

Monday, 19 July 2010

55. My Turn Now



"As I moved, I knew I was Kidman. Running from me, Stephanie Fey. This was how it felt to be pursued by me. To be pursued by an empty and desperate soul, caught up in the death of a dying planet that knows and believes nothing, yet must hold onto something, anything, just to keep death at bay. Poor bitches! Her and me!"
I couldn’t sleep.

“You can’t sleep, can you?”

“No, I can’t sleep. Who the hell are you anyway?”

“Sleeplessness.”

“Oh, great! That’s all I need: another imaginary pain in the ass. Oh, here’s an idea: sod off! Some of us are trying to sleep around here, you know!”

“Yep, I’m imaginary alright. No getting away from that one. So, what are you thinking about?”

“Stupid question! We won’t get on too well if you don’t get smart. After all, you’re the only person paying attention. Who else is listening around here, if not you?”

“What are you thinking about?”

“If you must know – although I know you already know and you’re just trying to make sure that I stay awake! – I’m thinking about being unable to sleep, about being alone, about being crazy and about seeing things, about having been a stalker, about that damned James and the fact that I slept with him, and about the fear I put in others and all because I was lost inside and tried to hold onto a myth of my own making, about my bloody interfering mother and the fact that I never call her 'mom', about being a little girl in Flagstaff and how simple life was, about my brother (wherever he is!), my best friend Dizzie Lizzie (wherever she is!), and about where I’m gonna go from here, and then I think about James again and why I feel nothing towards him right now, when for so long I was feeling such intensity. Oh, and about Kidman – and how much I thought I loved her when all I loved was who I desperately want me to be! And I’m thinking about the fact that I can’t sleep, when I feel so achingly tired! So desperately tired! Oh, did I mention that already? Anyway. That do for you?”

“Thanks. Listen. I’ll let go if you will.”

“Let go? Of what? Hey, you implying I’m being a tad indecent down below? Now, you listen: some girls do and some girls don’t – and this girl don’t!”

“All that stuff you’re thinking about, I’ll let go if you will.”

My head was reverberating. I had that momentary disjointed feeling when you think that your mind has just slipped slightly out of your head – it happens just before you fall asleep. That slight inner slide of different properties. I felt it and something inside said "Yes" to sleeplessness and we both let go together. Delicious and, because I was so tired, slightly painful too, as if  burly hands were roughly dragging me down into sleep.

Then a new disjointed feeling.

At some point I woke up and looked around me at the dark shadows of the room. I was awake, and yet something made me feel that I wasn’t awake. There must have been a full moon outside as I could see the outline of things in the room, all milky white. But something was different. All the shadows looked different – something about the perspective was odd. Also, my body felt different. Light. Unbound. Severed in some way. Disjointed in some way too. My hand moved to pull myself up to look around me and I found that the bed wasn’t there. The quilt was draped over me but I wasn't lying on the surface of the bed. I shouted out, I'm sure. The shout was loud and fuelled by sudden panic. It was instantly clear to me – although how it had happened was beyond comprehension – that I was floating above my bed, unconnected to the ground, disconnected from the physical world.

As I panicked I found myself scrabbling in the air. But although I scrabbled, it didn’t change my position, I was still floating above the ground. Then it struck me what had happened around me: there was no gravity. I was hovering as if in space. I was on the ground, in an old and dilapidated house in Scotland, miles from anywhere, and yet I was off the ground as if in a space station or on a space walk. At that moment I also recognised the milky white light. It was not the light of the moon at all.

"The quilt was draped over me but I wasn't lying on the surface of the bed. I shouted out, I'm sure. The shout was loud and fuelled by sudden panic. It was instantly clear to me – although how it had happened was beyond comprehension – that I was floating above my bed, unconnected to the ground, disconnected from the physical world"
The curtains were closed over so I couldn’t see the shape of the ghost of the dead astronaut but there was no mistaking that it was him.

There was a brief moment where I thought I should move towards him, not resist him, let him come through, let him take me. Why not? What did I have to lose by not running, or to gain by running? It was all the same. Everything was the same. Walking away from society or walking back to it. Sleeping with a complete stranger and watching him walk away. And gradually feeling nothing towards it all, just a great emptiness. And this glowing, lifeless entity wanted me more than anything else did. More than I wanted myself, or more than I wanted to preserve myself. So, why shouldn’t he have me? Oh, you know you’re in trouble when the best the male sex can offer a girl is the ghost of a dead astronaut! Not only does he refuse to ever take his boots off in the house, but he won’t even remove his bloody helmet!

His light seemed to get fainter, as if he was moving away. But this was just temporary. I then saw the light dramatically increase in size before the room shook with a great thud and a crack of glass that seemed to slice through my ears. Maybe it wasn’t the room that shook, maybe it was just me, my eardrums reverberating, my senses jolting, my nerves suddenly painfully alert. Just like had happened before, the astronaut must have thrown himself against the glass to try and get through. Judging from the sound, this time he must have succeeded more than before. I found myself still floating, but upright now; I could move in any direction I wanted but just not down to the ground, it seemed.

I had to get away. What kicked in was a sense of self-preservation, from somewhere. Perhaps instinctive. Perhaps some deep-seated self-love that wanted expression - this seemed absurd to me, but who knows what exactly it is that kick-starts us to stay alive. As another great cracking and wrenching sound tore through the room and seemed to slice through my nerves in a long scything motion that made me feel both sick and sore, I found myself almost swimming through the air towards the main door to my suite of rooms. I grabbed things and pulled on them to give me leverage and direction, and kicked and waved my limbs to aid movement. I needed to get away. The astronaut was battering with so much force that it was clear that it wouldn’t be long before he finally smashed the window and its frame and found his way in.

I glided out of the main door and into the hallway, still amazed at being off the ground. If I looked outside, what would I see? Planets, stars at ground level, perhaps even the Earth in the distance, a space station moving slowly towards the house to dock with its front door? Maybe it wasn’t space that had fallen, maybe it was the house that had risen up into space, now orbiting the Earth like a satellite.
Now there was silence from my suite of rooms. No more sound of forceful banging. Down at the end of the hallway at the house’s front door, I could see a light moving around the door frame and surging like a short spike through the keyhole. He seemed to be following me. He seemed to know where I was. The door frame shook as a forceful thud bore down on it and I saw the handle judder.

I grabbed the banister and began to make my way up the stairs. For some reason, as I past different landmarks, I saw images of Kidman at different places where she’d been. First, sitting on the stairs as the Smelly God and his smelly assistant worked. Then the small upstairs room where she was when I told her I’d found the key to the room in the basement – as I glanced outside the window the astronaut’s glowing figure floated by. The room where she’d got me ready to go into the neighbouring town to meet James – the astronaut’s gloved hand was held in a fist and momentarily beat against the glass. The room where we’d dressed-up and role-played – the figure there again, grabbing the frame of the window and shaking it to see if it would budge. The notion of having had these internal experiences sickened me and added to the absolute nausea inside of me, but also I felt an aching loss for the fact that the Imaginary Kidman wasn’t there. If only somebody was there to help me! Why did I have to be alone all the time? Always in the dark. Always within my own darkness. Always haunted by myself! Always alone in it all. And always fighting to survive against terrors, when the greatest terror was the thought that I might suddenly decide I didn’t want to survive anymore. The greatest terror was myself, that my own deep-seated weakness would overwhelm me, and all strength, all obstinacy, all the grim determination within the gloom, would crumble and float off into space like dust. But not yet. It hadn’t happened yet. There was still hope. Small, oh so small, so very, very small. But still glowing a little. Thankfully glowing.

"Now there was silence from my suite of rooms. No more sound of forceful banging. Down at the end of the hallway at the house’s front door, I could see a light moving around the door frame and surging like a short spike through the keyhole. He seemed to be following me. He seemed to know where I was. The door frame shook as a forceful thud bore down on it and I saw the handle judder"

Or was this tiny stab of iridescent hope taunting me? Could the astronaut take me any time he wanted? Was he showing this little hot coal of hope to be pointless? Could he crush it under his heavy boot whenever he wanted, and was he just biding his time? And did this ember have no intention of growing? Would it always stay this dim, and was this dimness a sign of dying and not a sign of life?

How can I know? How can the present ever answer these questions? The incomplete, tottering, insubstantial, flighty, short-sighted, ignorant present. But it was all I had and I had to protect it as best I could. No matter what it turned out to be. So I held fast to the little glow somewhere inside and frantically thought how I could get away.

Frantic thoughts turned into frantic movements at some point. I looked around me and realised that I was on the upper floor of the house – the one with the doorway that I never wanted to enter, the one up a few steps that either led to a cupboard or another room that was higher than all the others. Across from it was a room that I had never looked at before and I hovered beside it, holding the doorframe and wondering at what lay inside. It was a large room with an enormous old brass bed inside. None of the other rooms had beds, they were all mostly empty. The bed itself seemed to glow. I wasn’t sure if it was with its own autonomous glow or if it was due to the figure of the astronaut that had appeared at the window to the room.

Somehow I could see him so clearly – clearer than ever before – this figure with the pitch-black visor, breathing slowly and painfully like a dying soul on a life-support machine, shining so strikingly. Almost beautifully, in some ways. And through the window, words came from him, muffled and almost like a whisper through the glass: "It's your turn. It's your turn now."

Bang! He threw his shape against the window, desperately trying to find a way in. Then, straight after, he again hurled himself against the window and an upper pane cracked with a sharp sizzle sound. As another thump rained down on it – from his hand, the front of his helmet, his knee, his shoulder – the frame buckled and the window caved in. Glass tumbled down on the floor and the sound was so stark that it was like a hundred harsh stings that made me wince. As the glass shattered on contact with the floor, there was another great thud. But this time not from the window. It was from somewhere else. Then I heard it again. Again not from the astronaut outside, but from the door to the mysterious upper room, or whatever it was. Then another thud, this time with another smash – this one was from the astronaut outside. As I glanced at him I saw the entire window disintegrate and his heavy, powerful presence floated through. Bang! Bang! More brutal thuds from the door at the top of the stairs. What was in there? And what was it that was trying to get out? Another astronaut?

I had to get away. No time to think. It had to be another journey back down the stairs. Grabbing hold of things as best I could, I moved back down the stairs, not sure where I was going, not sure where I could go. The occasional desperate look behind me told me that the astronaut was in pursuit. Again I heard the words, rasping in a staccato, transistorised manner – mechanical, and distant within the crackle and hiss that surrounded them: “It’s your turn. It’s your turn now.” Repeated over and over again, but with slightly more anxiety each time. My turn? Was it my turn to be stalked? Was this revenge for my stalking of Kidman? If so, I deserved it! And I deserved to flee with nowhere to go, and with nowhere to turn to!

"As the glass shattered on contact with the floor, there was another great thud. But this time not from the window. It was from somewhere else. Then I heard it again. Again not from the astronaut outside, but from the door to the mysterious upper room, or whatever it was. Then another thud, this time with another smash – this one was from the astronaut outside. As I glanced at him I saw the entire window disintegrate and his heavy, powerful presence floated through"

More mammoth thuds resounded through the house from above me, from behind where the astronaut glided towards me. Then I heard more battering coming from in front of me. From the front door again? I felt surrounded. Behind, above, in front. Perhaps there were more than two of them now. Everywhere, the presence of dead astronauts moved towards me.

Was it perhaps then that I realised that I was struggling to breathe? My old nemesis of acute asthma had returned, but fully-formed, fully-present, without me being the least bit aware of it growing. It was all caught up within a feeling of sickness and terror that had been with me since I had woken up. I could barely feel any air getting into my lungs. It was as if great hands were grappling for air, but there was nothing to get a hold of but tiny, barely usable pockets of the stuff.

Without warning, I found I was falling. So sharply and so quickly. Down to the ground I fell with a colossal and painful thump. My left knee and the side of my cheek hit off the hard wooden stairs beneath me. As I lay there, I expected to feel the astronaut’s hands on me. My muscles were tense like fists as I anticipated his grip. I could still hear his voice: “It’s your turn. It’s your turn now.” The intensity of the sound having increased to such a level that I wasn’t quite sure where he was. But also his proximity was masked by the banging sounds that seemed to surround me. Then I vomited. I think it was a mixture of unparalleled fear and the inability to breathe. I saw the sticky yellowy-grey flow of it dripping from one stair to the next before me. Gravity had returned and I tried to pull myself to my feet to continue my retreat.

Another glance behind me and there was the astronaut a mere flight of stairs above me. But he was also on the ground, no longer airborne. It was an unusual image. I almost wanted to stare at him to see what this meant. But there was no time, in a second he began to move towards me purposefully. I was exhausted. There was little energy, or even life, left in my body. I could smell and taste my own vomit. I could feel my body so heavy all about me. I could sense the contracting of my lungs and every dying muscle fighting to preserve them. Terror was indistinguishable, mixed as it was with illness and nausea. And there were tears in my eyes. Another thing I hadn’t noticed before. But the tears were making it hard for me to see. Everything was blurry and my feet stumbled down the stairs with terrible slowness. The sound of great thumps rocked my ears, the sound of the astronaut’s feet hard on the wooden stairs, the sound of his words, the sound of my own rasping, all ghosted in and out of me as if I was disintegrating. As I moved, I knew I was Kidman. Running from me, Stephanie Fey. This was how it felt to be pursued by me. To be pursued by an empty and desperate soul, caught up in the death of a dying planet that knows and believes nothing, yet must hold onto something, anything, just to keep death at bay. Poor bitches! Her and me!

"The intensity of the sound having increased to such a level that I wasn’t quite sure where he was. But also his proximity was masked by the banging sounds that seemed to surround me. Then I vomited. I think it was a mixture of unparalleled fear and the inability to breathe. I saw the sticky yellowy-grey flow of it dripping from one stair to the next before me"

Was that a handle? Was that the handle to my suite of rooms? I pushed down on it and moved through it and then I heard its familiar click behind me. The click of it locking. Securely locking. My hand gripped the lock tight, as if my hand would somehow re-enforce its steadfastness. But not for long. I sank to the ground. Darkness was complete around me, there in the corridor that leads to my three rooms. I still couldn't see, but I had security of sorts.

Bang! Again? So soon? Oh, not so soon! Would there be no respite? Not even a minute, not even a few seconds? Could he already be at the window of my living room again, finishing what he’d started? No. This time the sound was within my own rooms, right inside my safety zone. I’m sure I gasped, and my head turned round – finding the last pocket of energy – as if I could see the sound and focus on it in the blackness. Where did safety lie now? No, it didn’t lie anywhere. It had always been a lie.

Another noise. This time the sound of furniture moving – a chair or table, probably in my main living area. I suddenly felt the fingers of darkness squeeze round my lungs, ejecting more air, entirely constricting my ability to breathe.

Then it happened. The events of the last few minutes had been so shocking and they had consumed my attention to such a degree that I was unaware of a full asthma attack coming on. Like another intruder it grabbed me, its hands on me, violent and ruthless. I was helpless, my hands, my legs, my torso, my mouth and eyes and throat wrestled with it, right there on the floor beside the door. I couldn’t get to the lock of the door now, all hope of escape had been stifled irrevocably. The astronaut and his presence had me trapped. There was no escape. I had delayed this moment, but I couldn’t delay it anymore. As I gasped and grunted, as my whole system screeched for breath and my lungs rattled as they lashed out in every direction for dear, lovely wonderful air – oh, any air at all! – I vaguely heard other noises close beside me: fast-approaching footsteps, more furniture being rocked and struck, an approaching scent of some kind, a sound of fumbling, and the tangible feel of a physical frame closing in on me. A spark close to my face. A shadowy face looming close to me – cloaked more in the night than in flesh. Was I about to breathe for the last time as I saw this indistinct face? It felt that way. Somewhere inside I prepared myself for it. Then I heard the words:

“You silly moo-moo. You’ve really got to invest in a new lung!”

Perhaps more fatal than if it had been the astronaut before me by the light of that match, the realisation that it was my best friend Lizzie almost killed me with relief in an instant.

Then she said: “Hey, what’s that shiny 'man thing' hovering about in the trees outside? Is that some kind of prank?”

Man thing. An astronaut? Outside? Lizzie had seen it! It was real! Real?

I think that the last thing I felt just before I passed out was a warm tear easing its way down past the cold ones, relaxed, relieved, and tickling me with a hint of joy in its little stream.

Real! Real! What would Kidman say? Oh, what would she say?

Next instalmant: 56. I Hope and Allow