fiction

STRANGERS

Chris R--10 Illustration by Christine Renney

Only a brief description of the Apartment Block will be necessary. How it is perceived by the Townspeople is far more interesting. By those who pass it each day to and from work and the shops, by those who walk in the park and feel they are imposing, trespassing even, within the grounds of some stately mansion. For it is here when they come to escape at lunchtime or on a summer’s evening; here when families gather at the weekend to picnic and play – this is when the Apartment Block antagonises them the most. From its vantage point at the edge of the park, with its black windows like hoodless eyes, it is all seeing and impossible to ignore.

The Townspeople are proud of their park and all have contributed to the restoration of its centrepiece, the Bandstand, now fully restored to its former glory, is a testament to their perseverance and dedication. To their hard work. But now, when they come here to bask in the sunshine, the Apartment Block casts its shadow from above, spoiling it for them. Its residents are constantly changing, an array of Young Professionals. It is rare that anyone stays here for more than a year but, to the Townspeople, they are indistinguishable in their fine clothes, with their impractical cars and well paid jobs in the City. Their lives are without commitment and seem, from afar, frivolous and their home is akin to the most modern of hotels. Its gardens, lovingly tended and painstakingly maintained are the Town’s parkland. The Bandstand is merely a trifle, a folly within the Apartment Block’s playground.

The Townspeople have not been colluding but all are moving in the same direction so of course it is inevitable they will converge. They gather in the bushes and watch the Apartment Block. Occasionally someone will emerge and each time the Townspeople become more agitated, moving involuntarily, eventually lurching forward, revealing themselves. An exiting couple, alarmed by the presence of the now all but motionless individuals littering the grass in front of them, move hastily along the path. They fail to notice the first of the Townspeople who, reaching the doors before they close behind them, slip into the building.

The Townspeople begin edging slowly forward and the couple, unaware of what has triggered this ungainly procession, are brought to an abrupt halt. Stranded on the path they cling to each other but are forgotten. The Townspeople, intent on the Apartment Block, keep on coming from out of the undergrowth, a veritable hoard moving toward and beyond the couple, who perhaps recklessly rush against the tide toward the exit.

Huddled beneath the Bandstand the young couple look back toward the Apartment Block. The crowd gathered, in front of the main entrance doors, appears as a leaden and lumpen mass. But it is thinning. Slowly the Townspeople are forcing their way through the doors and into the building.
‘Who are they?’ she asked.
Shaking his head he said nothing.
‘Where did they come from? What do they want?’ she shrieked.
Reaching out he placed his hands on her shoulders in an effort to still her.
‘I don’t know’ he said softly. ‘I have no idea.’

They began to pace, their footsteps beating against the shiny hardwood floor of the Bandstand. He began to wonder about their neighbours – how many of them were still at home, still in their apartments? Readying, as they had been just a few minutes before, for the day ahead?
They watched as the Strangers pushed across the threshold and the doors swung to behind them. Mesmerised, the young couple continued to watch and seemingly everything had returned to normal.
The Apartment Block glared back at them but the Park again was quiet, picture postcard perfect, until the faces began to appear at the windows. Everything then wasn’t so beautiful or quite so serene.

Advertisements
Standard
fiction

PARASITE

Chris R-0651-2 Image by Christine Renney

The man pulls his house along with him, wherever he goes. It is cumbersome and unwieldy but he is young and strong and full of vigour. He has attached ropes to all four corners and whenever he needs is able to turn the house around. But he is thankful to be in a country that is big and flat. The landscape can be desolate and harsh but it doesn’t matter because the man can always take shelter in the house.
The distance between places is vast and he is often on the road for weeks, even months, before reaching a settlement. But again, it doesn’t matter because the man hasn’t any intention of stopping, of staying put. In fact, it is when he is forced to pass through the populated areas, the townships and such, that he is at his most anxious. It is then that he wishes the house were smaller and not so heavy, that pulling it along wasn’t such a slow and gruelling task.

The people watch him from inside their own houses, staring through the windows, scrutinising his progress or they stand out on the pavements, huddled in small groups, talking quietly and conspiratorially.
They call him a freak and a parasite and it is the latter which baffles and troubles him the most. He doesn’t feel that he is a parasite, but quite the opposite in fact, whatever that might be.

Out on the road he is constantly tempted to turn the house and himself around. But he suspects that, if he did, eventually he would grind to a halt. Also he needs to buy supplies from time to time. He has considered setting the house down outside of a settlement and walking in with his rucksack. No-one other than himself would be any the wiser. But travelling through the villages and the towns is unavoidable and he can’t help feeling that if he were to do this it would be the beginning of something else.

When he traverses the populated areas the man tries to keep calm and stay focused. He tugs a bit harder and toils for longer. Dragging a house along a road is a noisy operation. Out on the open road he stops hearing, becomes immune to it. But amidst the people and their houses his every movement is blaringly amplified. He watches the bystanders as he works, and studies their faces. He is alert to each flinch and every grimace registers as he ever so, ever so, slowly makes his way. If he could he would continue throughout the night but of course he can’t. And when at last he takes to his bed, although bone tired, he is unable to sleep. He can still hear them, the towns’ people or the villagers, shuffling around his house, ever vigilant, ever observing.

On the road the drivers are much more vocal. They don’t whisper and shuffle. The man and his house are an obstruction and he is often the cause of lengthy traffic jams. When the lorries are able at last to manoeuvre around him, the drivers are angry and sound their horns loudly. They lean red-faced from their cabs, gesticulating wildly.
Almost oblivious and head down amidst the dust he can’t really hear what the drivers are shouting. They are yelling names at him but he is pretty sure they aren’t calling him a parasite.
When he is able the man pulls his house off to the side of the road. He waits for the lorries to pass, until the road is clear, and he is able to gaze out across the landscape.

Standard
fiction

THE AFFLICTED

Chris R-1110228 Image by Christine Renney

Tyler was amongst the first to stop sleeping. It was quite possible he was at the head of the chain, although officially it would not be recognised because Tyler didn’t tell. He did not want to offer himself up for scrutiny and, despite everything, he held to this and managed alone.
At first, Tyler believed the insomnia was the beginning of something else; that he was coming down with a fever, a virus of some sort. That it was just a freakish interlude and that the excess energy would eventually lay him low and that after a few days in bed he would recover.
A couple of sleepless nights didn’t seem so unusual and in fact, whilst at work, Tyler forgot. It wasn’t until late in the evening when his wife was readying for bed that he realised he didn’t feel tired and it was then that he remembered he hadn’t slept.
Nevertheless, Tyler followed her upstairs and lay beside her in the bed. For a third night he stared blankly in the darkness and he tossed and turned, trying but failing to settle and the following day he didn’t forget.
Tyler began to worry. Something was happening or, more accurately, had already happened. He neither could nor needed to sleep and that night, the fourth night, for the first time Tyler abandoned his bed.
He untangled himself from the twisted duvet and his sleeping wife and, in his robe and bare feet, padded out onto the landing. He hovered for a moment – he didn’t know what to do or where to go.

He stood at the sink with a glass of juice and peered through the window, trying to see into the garden. His wife appeared in the doorway and Tyler watched her reflection in the glass as she moved toward him.
‘Can’t you sleep?’ she asked.
‘No.’
‘Why not?’
‘I don’t know. Just not tired.’
‘Aren’t you feeling well?’
‘I feel fine,’ he snapped. ‘I’m not tired, that’s all.’
She reached out and placed a hand on his shoulder.
‘Come on,’ she said, ‘let’s go back up.’
‘No, not now. It’s not worth it.’
‘Don’t be silly, of course it is. Come on,’ she urged, ‘let’s go.’
Tyler turned.
‘You go,’ he said softly, ‘I’ll be up in a few minutes.’
He watched her in the hallway, sleep already reclaiming her and it almost had her but she would of course make it back to their bed.
Tyler placed the glass, still untouched, on the counter and he leaned back against the sink. He waited like that until it was time for him to get ready for work.

Even before the end of the second week, on the eleventh day in fact, the others began to emerge. At first it was just something on the internet with only those directly affected participating. But they were doing what Tyler could not do; they were talking, desperately trying to understand, to make sense of it and wanting to be heard and believed.
Tyler studied the news on the web. Late in the night, whilst his wife was sleeping, he sat with his tablet, frantically scouring site after site, scanning from page to page, reading and re-reading all the brief messages and devouring the lengthier blogs. Although tempted, he didn’t add any comments of his own. Not even out there in the ether Tyler couldn’t say it, he wouldn’t confess.
As the days progressed, the others began to post video diaries. Amid the speculation there was much talk about what they were doing, how they were utilising the extra time, they were sharing and comparing and coming together.
There was a college student in Cranston, Connecticut, who had set himself up in front of a webcam, where he intended to stay put for as long as he needed in order to silence the sceptics. But the doubters of course would cling on and it seemed to Tyler an entirely pointless exercise. He could see quite clearly just how quickly the phenomenon was building, that it was spiralling and could not be contained.
Nevertheless, Tyler found himself drawn to this self-proclaimed spokesperson, who in a manifesto of sorts, had stated his intention was to read. He had even made a list of the books he intended to keep close at hand. But whenever Tyler checked on his progress he was always talking, either directly to the camera or with his girlfriend who sat off-screen, only coming into the frame when she leant forward, gesticulating in order to make a point.
Tyler wasn’t listening, he didn’t switch on the sound. He didn’t want to hear, what he wanted was for him to fail, for the college student from Cranston, Connecticut, to begin nodding off and to fall asleep. But of course, he didn’t. Like Tyler, he remained rigid and wide awake.

Tyler couldn’t help feeling that he should be making better use of his time, doing something with it rather than simply standing and staring into space. And yet here he was again, leaning back against the sink and gazing across at the clock above the fridge.
He could read, not in a showy and attention grabbing way like the ‘college student from Cranston, Connecticut‘, but down here. Uninterrupted, he could get to grips with “War & Peace” at last, or Don DeLillo’s “Underworld”. Tyler realised that, other than news reports and the testimonies of others on the internet, he hadn’t read anything at all, not since this began.
Or perhaps exercise was the key? He could easily picture himself out there, beneath the street lights, pounding the pavements, head down and breathing hard, weaving his way in a tracksuit and running shoes, although he owned neither. But a strict and gruelling regime might help to make the time pass. But of course it couldn’t and wouldn’t.

By the middle of the third week it had escalated and as Tyler had expected it was everywhere. He watched his wife at the breakfast table struggling, bleary eyed, with the newspaper, readying herself to face it, to contemplate it yet again.
‘It’s remarkable,’ she said at last, ‘unbelievable.’
She began then to really grapple with it and it didn’t matter that Tyler wasn’t contributing. It was a monologue and one he had played out in his own head many times. And now all he needed to do was sit back and listen.
He was almost ready to tell her but not quite. After all, he had been granted all of this extra time and so why shouldn’t he linger a little longer? A few more hours, another day at most. Let it build, become even bigger. It had already been estimated that a least twenty five per cent of the world’s population had been afflicted. Those not sleeping, the non-sleepers, had been angered by the use of this word. ‘Afflicted.’
Declaring that what was happening to them wasn’t in any way an affliction, with many claiming that all the evidence suggested that only healthy and well-adjusted individuals had been affected, had, in inverted commas, ‘been chosen’. Those who could manage, who were able to cope.
Tyler wasn’t really listening to his wife now but he found the sound of her voice soothing. She was excited and although she wouldn’t say it she was wondering if she or he or perhaps both of them would be next.
Tyler stifled a yawn. He stretched out and, pushing back his chair, made himself comfortable. For the first time in weeks he felt at ease and also very, very sleepy.

Standard