Reproduced with permission from the author.
After last night’s fun and games I had planned for a nice quiet day in the house with Luna. As the phones are still out from the Arctic deciding to try to move its boarders to England I guessed that I wouldn’t be getting much in the way of business either so the day would be spent checking the plants, harvesting, drying and bagging. No.
It started out promising; I got up, made breakfast- a smoke and a cup of tea, fed the dog, checked the plants, bit cooler than yesterday, I guess there was more snow so will have to start thinking of bringing more lamps in.
Started to weigh and bag when there was a frantic knock at the door, I pocketed then bagged up the stuff and swept the rest into a bin bag and stuffed it under the sofa; all the while this person’s knocking was getting more and more frantic. Looking through the key hole I see the youngest of the Lung’s looking frantic so after last night I opened the door to let her in.
As soon as I open the door she starts waving a roll of cash at me tied up with string, now it can’t be a Christmas present as we don’t know each other well enough to be exchanging that kind of a gift; looking at it, there was roughly 500 quid there and for her safety I pull her through the door, shutting it behind her. She starts to talk at me in Chinese, now I know the language to the extent where I can say hello, thank you and goodbye but I had no clue what she was saying so taking a wild guess I pull out a 10 bag and offer it to her; nope not that then, she looked at me puzzled for a moment then starts talking again.
I am totally befuddled at this point and try small words, “Follow you?”
Bingo, she pauses for a moment while she works out what I have said and nods.
Now I know that the woman opposite speaks Chinese as she was interpreting last night but I also know that she was working this morning (some sort of Resident’s Association meeting or something) so there was no point knocking to see if she could help so it was just me and Su-ling. She is still talking at me as we walk down the stairs but I have no idea where I am going or what I am going to see when I get there; she is looking more frantic when Brian walks round the corner. I have never wanted to talk to him so much since I met him.
I know he works for Joe, Smokey to most people but according to him I am not most people, I don’t know whether to take that as a compliment or not;
I explain what has happened and he tries the old English holiday fail safe that has made locals cover their ears and cower for generations, he speaks loudly and slowly at her. Now I could have tried that but we all know that it doesn’t work and she just waves the roll of cash under his nose. Brian takes it off her and counts out 500 quid, right there in the middle of the corridor. Subtle this man is not.
After announcing to the world in general that there is 500 in cash he pockets it in front of her; I hope that this is a clumsy sign of keeping it safe, she looks at me and just pulls at my sleeve to continue our decent into the rabbit hole. As we enter the lobby (ha! It’s a pair of double doors that shield the stairs from the outside world but I really can’t think of another name for it) I realise that we are going back to the Chinese take-away. I am starting to panic now, if she wants me to check on her dad then we need Catia for this, she’s is the nurse after all, all i’ve got is basic first aid (and a bit of chemistry). There is a figure in the door way looking like he’s trying to enjoy a quiet smoke, it’s Joe.
I’ve worked for him for a while now but over the last 24 hours I have spoken to him more than I think he would like; I ask if he speaks Chinese, hope must have been radiating off me like the sun at this point but it turned out he also knows the extent of the menu from the local takeaway; I really feel like I should be taking lessons soon. Su-ling tugs on my sleeve again, a little harder this time so I nod and leave the lads to it, hoping they will follow. Not for any help from the looks of it but sometimes it helps to spread the confusion.
She leads us into the kitchen of the take-away and points to the freezer; all of us hesitate, I did not see this myself but the lads told me this is where they found the frozen cat that defrosted at mine and I swear was still part catsickle when it sauntered out the door. Brian, being Brian is the first to pull himself together and opens the chest freezer. Cautiously we, not so happy three, peer into the frosty depths to be greeted by the sight of a frozen bin bag; looking closer the shape of the bag isn’t a lump of something but more cylindrical. Brian, who for reasons that will become clear later seems to have no sense of self-preservation AT ALL reaches in and pulls out the bag, he looks in and pulls out rolled up sheets of paper secured with elastic bands.
While he unrolls one of the tubes I ask Su-ling if anyone else is in the house that can explain what she is so upset about, she vanishes into another room and re-appears with her older sister who looks just as confused as the rest of us, “Um, hello?” she says slowly.
I explain, again, why we are here and she turns to her sister and there is a frantic conversation. Looking a little annoyed at her sibling she explains that the same man who paid her father to store the invincible feline came banging on the back door during the night, he asked her to hide said bin bag and pushed a roll of notes into her hand.
“Brian is looking after it for her, I thought it was a little dangerous for her to be waving it around” I interrupt. Let’s see what happens. Slightly to my surprise he nods and pulls out the cash and hands it to Su-ling.
Her sister takes it off her and continues, “I have been tending to father since you kindly saved him, my sister didn’t want to disturb him so took the money and knowing that father had done this before she just did the same.”
I look over to the lads who have closed the lid and were now using it as a crude table; the rolls of paper seem to be blue-prints of our building with tiny holes that could be pinpricks highlighted in red, a form of spider web in the same red ink linking places together and there were also crude stars in black ink scrawled over certain parts of the block. Two on the Thirteenth floor, flats 1313 and one that is so covered in red ink it is hard to decipher. One on the first floor flat 113 and one at the bus stop-oh look route 13! Why do I think it isn’t going to be lucky for us?
They explained that the man with the tin foil hat- Miles I think his name was, had been almost having an episode trying to tell them that something was happening, he said that he had seen cats that couldn’t die.
Yeah it’s called reincarnation, you generally have to go back to the start and try again but…”That’s not what you mean is it?” I say to the lads.
“No,” Joe says simply “he says he has seen them get hit by lorries and get up fine.”
I look at Brian who nods his head in agreement.
“He did say if we go back up to him he can show us what he means,” continued Brian said looking at Joe.
“Well now is as good a time as any” Joe replies.
“Wanna join us?” He asks looking at me.
I don’t think this is a good idea to be honest, a man who sounds like he is running beyond the realms of sanity and still accelerating may not want to speak freely in front of a stranger. I don’t have time to say this as I am whisked off to the sixth floor to talk to Captain Tin foil.
What answers the door is nothing I have been prepared for, a well-scrubbed man in a shirt and a woollen jumper; he seems to recognise Brian and Joe and begins apologising for his behaviour 16 hours ago. We go inside and the place is clean, I mean really clean, I mean show room clean with nothing out of place, the boys seem a little taken aback by this while the reformed Miles continues to apologise for his ranting, scaring the community and general craziness.
“What about what you wanted to show us?” Brian asked waving the blue prints at him.
“Whatever I said before, I was not myself” Miles says continuing to defend himself.
“What about the cats…?” Brian continues, in his ‘it was you wot done it, own up’ form of interrogation.
There is a strange noise coming from somewhere, it reminds me of something I haven’t heard since childhood; my father was a Chemistry Professor and one of his oddities was to wear a waistcoat and a pocket watch. Every now and again he would conduct his little ceremony of winding the watch. It would start with him taking it out, staring at it for a few seconds, holding it up to his ear, shaking it, holding it up to his ear again as if he were waiting for the mysteries of the universe to reveal themselves, huffing loudly and he would then begin to wind.
The noise I heard in Mile’s flat was a little like the noise of the cogs grinding and the spring being tightened; I looked around the room, expecting to see some form of clock when it stopped. Not in the way a clock winds down but stopped dead.
There it is again.
For some reason I look at Miles, he is paused in mid-conversation about him having paranoid schizophrenia and luckily finding someone who had the same mediation as him (someone with a stock pile) and persuading this total stranger of letting him have some until he can get to the doctors….well that certainly was convenient. Brian asks what medication Miles is on, hold on, wait, what? Brian has asked to see proof that the poor man is tormented by his own mind.
He takes out a box; it has a white sticker with the scientific name and all the stuff you usually see on a box from the chemists; and that’s when I realise that the noise is coming from him, as he pauses the mechanical whirring sound is audible then it cuts and Miles begins to speak. I stand there for a moment thinking perhaps i’m imagining it and searching for a clock. Brian, I am sure, is trying to bring the poor man to the point of another episode by arguing with him about paint, yes paint and Joe keeps asking how he got DFS to deliver a sofa in the snow.
Joe is quiet for a second as Brian comes in for a second wave of paint questions so I take a chance and ask Joe if his watch is a wind up, he looks at me slightly taken aback for a moment then says casually “Yeah, it’s an Omega,” pointing to his wrist.
“No, I mean do you need to wind it?”
Again he looks at me wondering where this conversation is going to, “Nah its perpetual motion.” He seems quite proud of that fact.
“Then what’s that noise?”
Joe looks at me for the third time, “How much have you smoked?”
‘You and him are arguing with him about decorating shit and you are asking ME about being off me tree?’ I scream so loudly in my head that I am sure they should have heard it.
“Only one but I will be rolling the mother of all of them after this” I reply; I need to talk to Brian.
I seem to have missed the last part of the conversation as Miles is looking at me with a HELP ME! plea on his face.
“Can I see the tin of paint miles?” says Brian
“He’s decorating and hates the smell,” Joe answers.
“Yeah, sure it’s under the sink.”
Brian goes on the hunt and presumably finding nothing more than a tin of emulsion he sits down again, although thinking back on this was it really only just a tin of paint, no really bear with me on this.
Using this point of confusion I do what all English people do in a point of crisis, “Who wants tea?”
Well that seemed to have worked, I pause and say “Brian, come and give me a hand.”
Brian follows me into the kitchen and while very loudly making tea and a glass of water for Miles on account of some form of gastric thing I tell him about the noise; we return wile Joe is having a go at getting information, it’s not going well and I have to wonder how he got so high up in his line of business.
The noise is there again. I nod to Brian and point to my ear; he listens and then…YES he hears it too!
I can see that a conversation with these two is beginning to exceed the limits of Miles’ medication, hell I might even ask for one at this rate. Brian sees it too and suggests that he takes his pills, giving them back to him. Miles, relief pouring off him like steam, grabs the box of tablets and takes them with the glass of water.
I watch, half expecting to see steam coming out of his ears or his neck blowing off on a spring like in the cartoons when a robot hits water.
“YOU ARE NOT MILES!” Joe decides to shout. Oh well done Captain Clever now the clockwork men know we’re on to them. Does he never watch Dr Who?
Brian also having the subtly of a rutting rhino says just about word for word what I just thought and now Miles looks as though he is about to have an aneurism; we make our excuses and turn to leave.
Joe hangs back and then loud enough so we can hear it on the landing he shouts “YOU’RE NOT MILES!”
Ah ha! Now it’s my turn for the look.
“You know when you’re holding a brick?” What the fuck! I am really struggling to hold on here.
“Actually no, not recently” is all I can manage before sitting down to roll. I give up, frozen cats, mysterious blue prints, clockwork men and now bricks. But wait it gets better.
“I shook his hand and it didn’t feel right” Joe continued “I added a bit of hard man (not sure if I heard that bit right to be honest) pressure to the shake and it was like squeezing a breeze block. He is not Miles.”
“What if the people that the real Miles said was after him, actually got to him and somehow brainwashed him?” Brian asked. I am glad I am building a smoke at this point as I am having trouble keeping up.
“I suggest we take a look at what the real Miles wanted to show us.” he continued indicating to the blue prints, still in his hands.
“I need to take the dog out first; I’ll have a look at the bus stop.” I said as I tucked the cone into one side of my mouth
“So we’ll take the first floor” Brian replies and for now we go our separate ways.
It seemed a good idea at the time.
Stepping outside me and Luna get Siberia in the face; luckily enough around the block isn’t so bad, Luna has a chance to run around, have a bit of a sniff and do what dogs do before we venture further out. Struggling through the snow, now up to my waist and Luna now trying her hand at pot holing, we get to the gate. After persuading the gate to open enough to let us through we manage to get onto the street. Looking down all I can see is a nose and decided to come back again after taking her home before her extremities begin to freeze, bet she’s glad she isn’t a boy.
I reach the 1st floor when what I can only describe as a sonic boom travels along the corridor and scares the crap out of the two of us; after my ears stop ringing and I have done a quick check to see that I am still alive, I still have all my appendages and that the dog is still alive and intact I hear the Northern tones of Brian and the quieter tones of Joe arguing about who blew the bloody doors off I decided to take Luna back home for her own safety.
Now dog-less I return to the gate outside the block and manage to fight my way to the bus stop.
And suddenly fall through a void. It was like someone had taken a knife and cut out the middle of a cake, the bus stop and possibly a meter square all around it there is no snow. Not only that but I was starting to get uncomfortably warm in my winter woollies and would have been quite happy to remove a few layers.
I pull out my phone and take pictures, no-one would believe a stoner when she says it was spring at bus stop 13; I also stick my arm out and take a couple more photos to prove that it is still snowing all around.
Walking up to the first floor it doesn’t take me long to locate the boys and when I arrive at apartment 113 I see a flat, unoccupied, dust sheets everywhere and at one end of the room Brian and Joe staring at an oval mirror almost the size of the wall. Now for the crazy part, yup the stuff before was confusing but this shit is just bat shit crazy.
Brian is standing there with his arm sticking into the mirror up to his elbow and Joe has his arms wrapped around Brian.
“…I could get turned on by this” Did Brian actually say that?!
“Do what you want it’s just business” Joe replied.
Looking at the mirror I see the reverse image of the room, yep all good but we are not there, Brian arm comes back out with the surface rippling like mercury. Pulling his phone out his pocket and takes some pictures from the other side, there is nothing in the mirror-room.
He sticks his head through then half of his body and to be honest I am half expecting a 13 Ghosts moment where he gets cut in half, but he emerges unharmed; him and Joe begin to argue whether going in or not is a good thing when a thought strikes me. Out of morbid curiosity I wander over to the fridge and open the door as Brian walks out the room with a determined expression.
All there is in there is a cheese sandwich that could very probably hold the cure for cancer in the fungus growing on it.
“Nope, no Zuul” I shout. Just thought I’d check.
Brian re-enters tying the metal end of a fire hose round his middle.
Squeak, squeak, slap, squeak.
“Oh crap it’s the cleaner,” I hiss.
“Oh let me shut the door, oh wait I can’t,” Brian says sarcastically to Joe.
“Quick, hide” he continues and dives into the mirror with a number of choice swear words following behind him; I am quite proud of this next move, I push all the gas rings of the cooker and let the gas escape just long enough to get the smell and run out into the corridor.
“Quick, quick please help!”
The surely eastern European man stops pushing the wheeled metal water container with his mop and stares at me.
“Please you have to help there has been a gas leak in one of the flats.”
“I clean,” He repeats
“You don’t understand a word I am saying do you?”
“I clean,” and just to make sure I get the message he slops the soaking dirty mop onto the floor and pushes it about a bit.
I give up and go back to the flat with the cleaner going back where he came from; I am finding a dust sheet to put over the door when Brian comes back through the mirror and he is failing to explain what he had just seen when there is a loud crash from behind us, spinning round we see that the real world sofa is laying on its side.
“I did that!” Brian announces proudly.
I was about to ask how when he continues to say “I moved the sofa on the other side before I came back out. Wait look,” and he vanishes back through the looking glass.
After about 15 minutes he pops back again trying to tell us that the mirror world is like a film set, all light weight and cardboard, this is when the cleaner appears in the door way shouting that we should not be here. Joe and I start arguing with him about selective English and gas leaks when Brian suggests that it is a good idea to leave.
Seeing how spooked he is we decide to go.
Heading up to the 13th floor we find flat 1313, one of the 2 flats marked with an asterisk on the blueprint map, Joe asks if I’d like to knock.
“Why would I want to do that?”
“Well Brian knocked on Miles door and I (ahem) knocked on the empty flat door so…”
“Oh it’s my turn. Yay!”
Another Eastern European voice shouts through the door “Yes, what do you want?”
What I wanted was for there to be no-one in, but I reply “Umm, building inspectors?”
“You lie, there are no building inspectors here. Who are you really?”
Bugger. “There has been a gas leak” Joe shouts up. Oh nicking my ideas now are we?
“There has been no gas leak.”
“Yes there has, on the first floor”
“Then it is no business of mine.”
“The cleaner sent us up.”
This seemed to get a reaction, after another door full of locks he opens enough to see us, I recognise some of the tattoos on the elderly gentleman’s visible skin. Then came my second good idea.
“Who wants to know?”
“Erm, the older man with the walking stick?”
“Yeah him, he said you might want to start up a bit of business?” I pull a bag out of my pocket and show it to him in my cupped hand. This seems to work and he lets us into his flat. Not much to report on this one, basic set up with no mirror in site; I start talking shop with Bartek while with a lot more stealth than he has shown previously Brian starts dropping pound coins about and looking under things. In the middle of our little chat Bartek yells out to Brian to leave the coin that has conveniently rolled under a table and gives him another out of his pocket.
Okay. We all look at each other.
I manage to get him out of the room long enough for Brian to take a look and putting his hand under the table he nods, his arse has just hits the seat when Bartek comes in carrying a black leather briefcase. Laying it on the table he snaps open the clasps and inside is stacks of cash, possibly enough to choke a donkey. Joe concludes with Bartek, promising him more business in the future and as Brian was unable to investigate further we continue to the next flat. The centre of the red web.
Outside the door is full of cats, dozens of pairs of eyes watching us approach, oh yay a crazy cat lady, just to top it all off.
Brian knocks on the door and a frail old voice answers, “Yes, who is it?”
“It’s the Resident’s Association members, love. We are investigating reports of disappearing cats. Can we come in?”
“Oh yes, of course. It’s not locked.”
The smell was phenomenal. Cat. Very much the smell of cat, piss, shit, musk, rotting meat, desiccated fish and in that nasal harmony a top note of old lady smell, it was like walking into a patio door. The owner of the voice is an old woman with cataract clouded eyes, she stares right through us as he tells us that she looks after the cats, who under advice of a caretaker, the management bought in to deal with the vermin problem.
Brian, still using the missing cats as an excuse to look for around, presumably for another mirror manages to take a look around the flat, while he is investigating I ask the old lady if she is warm enough and if she had eaten lately. Contrary to what my hours tell me she answers, “Oh yes a few hours ago dear.”
While I am trying to think of something else to ask her Brian comes in white as a sheet and gestures to one hand grasped tightly in the other; uncovering his hand he reveals two deep puncture marks dripping blood. He gestures with a nod of his head for us to leave, as we head out the voice of the crazy old cat lady follows us, “It was nice to have company, I do hope your friend is alright.”
How did she know that? Is she the Master using the mirrors in the cats’ eyes to see what’s going on? Am I going to wake up in a snug white coat strapped to a bed with rubber wall paper?
I feel like I am in an episode of Dr Who and still waiting for him to arrive and save the day.