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

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