"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