The ward was quiet except for the agitated drone of a distant floor-polisher and the peal of a telephone bell. Charlie raises himself up on his elbow and unravels the bandage from around his head. The car accident is a vague memory but one thing is for certain, he won’t entertain another bowl of lukewarm oatmeal this morning. He needs to leave, and he’s spent his waking hours plotting an escape. The best time to depart is at the shift change in ten minutes. 

   There is always a period of confusion and adjustment as the night shift complete their duties and hand over their reports to the day workers. The doctors might assume he was indisposed in the toilet if Charlie’s bed were empty. He reckoned that he’d have an hour before the incoming shift realised he was absent, at which point he’d be long gone. 

   Charlie eases his legs over the edge of the bed and searches the bedside cabinet drawer for his personal effects. It’s empty, but of course it is. They relocated him during the night after he’d complained about his roommate’s snoring. The fellow was sedated, and his airways rattled and strained all night like a badly maintained tractor. The waking watch had sympathised with Charlie’s plight and they’d pushed his bed through to the privacy of the adjoining room. Because of the kerfuffle that had occurred, his personal items clearly hadn’t followed him through to his new location. 

   A metallic food trolley crashes through heavy fire doors near the reception desk as Charlie’s bare feet touch the gritty linoleum flooring. He pads through to the adjoining room and searches for his possessions in the grey-blue morning light. His clothes are still lying over the back of a bedside chair. Charlie steps into his trousers and wriggles into the still-buttoned-up shirt. He recovers his shoes; his socks are still stuffed inside. 

   A nurse’s rubber-soled plimsolls squeak as they approach in the corridor outside. Charlie catches his breath. Voices exchange greetings outside his door. He lifts the heavy overcoat from the back of the door and pads the pockets. They feel full, but where are his spectacles? Last night, before lights out, he’d been reading in the visitor’s chair. He scans the bedroom. The glasses case is on the coffee table below the window. The nurses’ shrill laughter cuts through in the background and the pair continue on their rounds. A door slams shut and silence reigns again. Charlie hauls on the heavy coat and stuffs the spectacles container in the outside pocket. He’d be lost without his glassware.

   The former roommate was still unconscious when Charlie slipped out of the room and scuttled down the empty passageway towards the elevator doors. The control panel shows the lift is stationary on the eleventh level. He can’t wait. He darts through the stairwell door and down the two flights of stairs to the ground floor. 

   There was no reason for anyone to stop Charlie. The front doors part as he approaches. Outside the building, he walks past a gaggle of patients; early morning smokers huddled under a glass awning. 

   A line of twelve taxis hovers to the left of the main entrance. Charlie approaches a black four-door Mercedes sedan. Its silver-haired driver hobbles out and opens the rear passenger door. 

   “Where to, sir?” he says. “Home is it?”

   Inside the vehicle, Charlie felt a nauseating rush in his stomach. His head throbbed and his eyeballs ached as though someone were crushing them in a vice. The driver observes his passenger in the rear-view mirror and furrows his brow. 

   “Everything all right, sir?”

Charlie nods and mumbles an apology under his breath as he clutches the back of the passenger-side headrest with his left hand. He pads his coat pocket with his free hand and locates the wallet. He reaches inside to check its contents and finds a plethora of plastic, a driving license and money. 

   “You’re not going to puke, are you?”

   “Take me here, please,” Charlie says, waving the I.D. document at the driver.

Charlie closes his eyes and allows his head to lollop forward as the car pulls into the principal thoroughfare. 

   Charlie recalls nothing of the exhaust-choked journey across London. The early morning traffic is slow moving, and he’s fortunate that the vehicle’s air filter is in top condition. 

   The taxi stops outside a Victorian terrace house in a quiet, car-lined street. There is no sign of activity in this neighbourhood. However, all the properties have beautifully manicured gardens and lovingly restored architectural features. Even the street’s two parallel lines of pollarded trees look purposefully etched against the pale white skyline.

   The driver coughs in a controlled fashion. It’s a practiced rasp that says a lot quickly and has the desired effect. Charlie lifts his head and looks around. 

   “How much do I owe you?”

   “That’ll be twenty-five, sir,” he says, returning Charlie’s I.D.

Charlie extracts three tens from the wallet and offers them to the driver, who hesitates before taking the money.

   “You going to be all right, sir?”

   “Thank you, yes, and keep the change,” says Charlie as he lurches out of the car.

   Charlie walks up the front path and ascends the five polished stone steps to the front porch. He stops in the doorway. Charlie can’t see a door, let alone a door handle, a keyhole or anything that remotely resembles a door in fact. He steps back and raises his head and looks around as though he expects to see a prankster with a video camera. Charlie checks his pockets and fumbles around the deepest regions of the coat. He was looking for a key but finds an electronic switching device. The square of matt black brushed aluminium has four flat pads and four unlit red L.E.D.’s. Charlie presses one of the pads and the doorway emits a sharp bleep. Charlie repeats the action and entranceway comes to life. There are a series of short bleeps and a sequence of sharp clicks followed by a long scraping grind. One final loud metallic chink completes the cycle and the portico space recedes on a hinged mechanism to reveal a glowing white interior. 

   Once inside the building, Charlie pauses to adjust to his surroundings. He hears a gentle hiss behind him and turns to see the front door sliding shut, accompanied by the airtight whoosh of a vacuum seal. He proceeds down the hallway and there are hidden lights that slowly illuminate his progress. Charlie looks round in wonder as each room reveals detailed textures, rarefied brick and stone surfaces. The house contains ethereal spaces that pulse with a life of their own. The discrete lighting patterns highlight the wooden worktop in the kitchen area, the marble slab furniture in the front reception area and the immaculately crafted granite seating arrangements. None of the concealed light sources create any offensive glare but merely infuse the interior with a delicate and unearthly shimmer. On closer inspection, the pale walls are painted in subtle shades of cream and ochre that work in tandem with the architect’s choice of perfectly matched geological specimens. The slate, stone and marble items have been chosen for their remarkable aesthetic characteristics as well as for their robust practical applications. This is a minimalist’s heaven and a mecca of austerity.

   Charlie wanders into a room that he imagines could be a kitchen. His only reason for thinking this is so is because he can see a water retention vessel and a metal pipe that he assumes might be a sink and a tap. Charlie looks around the area for a means to collect the water. There are no obvious storage spaces or cupboards. He leans on the marble worktop and from behind his head he hears a gentle click. A seamless door at head height opens a fraction. Charlie catches the slim vertical surface with his fingertips and pulls it further outwards. It’s a door. There is a cupboard. It contains flawlessly symmetrical glasses. Charlie takes one and offers it towards the water pipe. A small red diode lights up on the metal tube and water cascades. Charlie catches it in the glass and then withdraws to take a sip. The water stops flowing immediately. 

   There is logic at work here, and Charlie experiments by hovering his hand over various surfaces. Using this method, he detects more cupboards and also a door to a garden. This rear exterior space contains an uncompromising approach to inhabiting the outside world. Its dark exterior brickwork reflects the rough gorse vegetation and hints at the lighter exposed brickwork that’s used within the house.

  Charlie hears a chiming sound that could be an ascending scale played on thin tubular strips. The control device in his pocket is vibrating, and he lifts it out to read to encounter a message. The letters spell out, F R O N T D O O R. Charlie retreats down the corridor to discover a flat screen on the rear of the entryway. There are two men standing outside with overalls and long handled paint rollers. Charlie approaches the door, and they become audible. 

   “Hello there, Mr Pawson, can you hear us?”

   “Yes, I can hear you,” he says. “What do you want?”

   “We’re here to paint your walls. It’s Tuesday. It’s our usual day, sir.”

   “No, it won’t be necessary today, thank you.”

They look at each other and then the taller man continues.

   “Well if you’re busy we understand, but we’re going to need paying.”

   “I’m sorry you’ll have to leave, I’m busy.”

   “We’re not going anywhere until we get paid, sir.”

   “Goodbye, I’m busy now.”

The two men look floored. The smaller man raises a fist and shouts.

   “Listen, sir, what the f…”

Charlie presses several of the buttons on the device and cuts them off. He can see them banging on the door, but he can’t hear anything. Soon the picture dissolves to white and their image disappears completely.

   Charlie wanders back inside and draws some more water. It’s a warm autumnal morning, not uncommon for this time of year. Charlie meanders outside and starts to understand the concepts at play here. He is finding that is enjoying the luxury of relaxing in a city garden that has been created to imbue a sense of peace and harmony. The central seating has been built at basement level so that any curious neighbours can’t overlook it. A subtle wave of a hand reveals a hidden chilled drinks receptacle that rises out of a central stone table. This is control freakery in the extreme. The outside dining table provides a single focus, like a stage set for shared pleasure. This is a seductive life style he could get used to, given a little practice.

   Charlie hears the chiming sound once more. The control device in his pocket vibrates and displays the location message again. F R O N T D O O R. Charlie sighs and saunters to the vestibule area.

   There is a woman outside. She is pointing her finger, and mouthing something that he can’t hear. Charlie presses a glowing button on the square control pad and the woman’s frenzied tones rapidly become audible.

   “John! John! I know you’re in there. Open the door….”

   “John isn’t here,” he says without thinking.

   “Who’s that?” she says. “John, is this some sort of stupid prank? Open the door.”

   “John’s not here, I can pass on a message.”

   “I don’t know who you are, but I insist you unlock this door immediately.”

There are now voices behind the woman. The angry workmen are complaining to her about the earlier incident. A car’s brakes screech to a halt and a siren wails. Blue lights now blink monotonously and bleach out the woman’s face as they flash on and off.

   A red light gently illuminates the hallway. Charlie turns to witness a hidden door slowly opening. There are steps leading downstairs to a lower level. The control device has a corresponding light that winks in time with the red basement lighting system. Charlie instinctively walks towards the basement door and he hears loud thuds on the front door. He turns to see the door screen display showing two officers with a heavy metal door ram. They are smashing it against the outside surface of the porch door. 

   Charlie follows the welcoming red glow and descends the stairwell into the basement. The door behind him slides closed, and he presses the blinking red diode pad on the hand device. A series of thick bullet proof sheets slide in place and secure the basement. The lower level becomes gently illuminated and reveals everything you could want for a lengthy stay: food, water, sleeping facilities and a TV. 

   The final zone at the far end of the basement has a green-lit area. That space now corresponds to a similar coloured button on the control switch. Charlie presses the green diode and a burnished metal door grinds open. The dark interior lights up inside. The room contains six racks of rifles, five cases of handguns and two walls covered in assorted weapons including: four crossbows and two dozen hunting knives.

There are also enough boxes of ammunition to last a lifetime. 

Charlie is here for the long haul, it seems.

September 19, 2020 01:12

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RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

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