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Fantasy Drama Suspense

Trigger warning: suicide

The guardsman’s tall, jet black, bearskin hat bristled in the moist London air as he marched out to the rod iron gates of Buckingham Palace to address the situation. His face was almost as red as his dress uniform and his voice was as stern as his old headmaster. “Get back! Do not climb on the fence!”

The school kids backed away, giggling and taking selfies or social media videos. He stomped his foot twice, did a smart about face, shouldered his L85A2, the standard issue rifle of all British Armed Forces, and marched back to his sentry box.

“Bloody tourists,” he whispered to himself, before doing another crisp turnabout to resume his position in front of his guard post.

John Smith’s days in the Queen’s Guard had lately become nigh on indistinguishable from any other day. His days blended into weeks and his weeks melded into months. He keenly knew the time, because of the regular changing of the guard, but…”What is the date?” he wondered aloud.

As he was trying to come up with the answer, another state of affairs needed to be dealt with, so he sprang into action. Left, right, left, right, he trudged back out to the palace gate. “Mum! Stay on the path and keep your baby carriage off the lawn!”

After a turnabout, a march, and another turnabout, he was back at attention in front of his sentry box. At least here at Buckingham he had a high palisade between him and the exasperating day trippers, but the ground he had to cover was much more extensive than say, the Tower of London, Saint James, or even Windsor Castle. At those places, sightseers were oftentimes right in his face, sometimes with less than a waist-high chain balustrade between his standard issue and their ruddy mugs. In that regard, his angry warnings and the proximity of his automatic weapon did a better job of controlling the crowds, but the endless admonitions were part of the reason for his inability to “trace time,” as the not-Sir David Bowie once crooned. Funny, the guardsman could clearly recall the time David Bowie declined knighthood in 2003, but he couldn’t remember today’s date.

All John could recall were the confrontations, and the innumerable memories intermingled with each other as he stoically stood watch…

“Stand back!”

“Stay behind the railing!”

“Don’t climb on the stone wall!”

“Get off the cannon!”

“Fines will be issued to all trespassers!”

“Do not impersonate a foot soldier of the Queen!”

“Make way for the Queen’s Guard!” This command came from the higher ranking member of the two guards marching to relieve him. Mercifully, it was time to retire for the day. The three of them performed the changing of the guard ceremony and John left with his superior officer.

In short order he’d returned to his barracks and stowed his dress uniform and rifle. Supper was the typical bland soldier’s fare of overcooked meat and potatoes, and as usual, he’d added an ocean of salt and gravy to make it edible. He skipped a friendly night game of rounders with his mates and found himself back in his quarters. He still didn’t know what day it was, but instead of caring, he opened his copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Two Towers at the bookmarked page and began reading.

His roommate came in very late and found him still awake and reading; two empty cans of Red Bull were crumpled next to a third half-finished one. “You missed a wild game tonight, pal, but the pub scene afterwards was even more brilliant!”

John’s nose remained in his tome.

His roommate pried the book out of John’s hands, “Return of the King? Johnny, you’re on the third book already? You just started the trilogy two nights ago!”

John yanked it back. “It’s a classic, Mattie,” John purposely added the extension to the end of Matt’s name because it irritated him when Matt called him Johnny.

“You’re going to die if you don’t get some sleep, John. You can’t possibly stay up all night for three nights in a row.”

“Well, I can try, Matt.”

“But why? Why are you even trying? If you pass out on duty, the captain will eat your bearskin hat for breakfast!” Matt climbed into the top bunk without undressing. John could smell the Irish whiskey on his breath and the Piccadilly perfume on his shirt as he swung past him.

“I could say the same thing to you. If the captain could smell the alcohol and bloody bint on you, he’d make a tablecloth out of your tunic,” John countered.

“You didn’t answer my question, ya wanker,” Matt pointed out from the darkness.

For a moment there was only silence; then John swallowed down the rest of his energy drink and crushed the can in frustration. “Fine, Matt, I’ll say it! I don’t want to have that same bloody dream again! I can’t have it again! It’s the same damn dream I’ve had for weeks…no for ruddy months!”

Matt looked down from the top bunk. “Months? You never said anything about it before.”

“I’ve lived with this droning dull vision long enough, and if I have the accursed thing again…I swear, I’ll bring myself to a sticky end!”

“Suicide?” Matt gasped.

“Don’t even try to preach to me, heathen,” John warned.

“Well Johnny, if you’re staying up all night anyway, surely you can tell me about it, can’t you? Maybe if it’s as dull and dreary as you say, it’ll put me to sleep.” Matt made himself comfortable.

Exasperated, John put a bookmark in his paperback and placed it next to his pile of empty cans. “Fine buddy, here goes. Once I fall asleep, I find myself in the most monotonous job on the planet.”

Matt laughed aloud, “Ha! More monotonous than being a Queen’s Guardsman? Come on, pal.”

“Yes, worse than a factory line worker, worse than a night watchman, worse than a substitute teacher, and even worse than marching in formation with the Queen’s Guard.”

“So what, pal, at least it’s not a recurring nightmare,” Matt argued.

“But it IS, Matt! It IS a nightmare! My life is tedious, sure, but to have humdrum days carryover into mind-numbing nights…there’s no respite, no break for me to catch my breath. It’s awful…and it has to end! It must end!” John shouted, clutching his tiny flat pillow. He could feel his pulse pounding in his ears.

“John, you have to take it easy…you’ll wake the whole barracks. You’re hyped up on power drinks; just try to relax and explain it to me. Maybe in the telling, you’ll find some kind of revelation to help you sleep.” 

John’s forehead was soaked with sweat. “Okay…okay, but don’t interrupt me. No questions. In my dream, I find myself at Disneyland or Six Flags or some other American amusement park…I’m not quite sure, but the John Smith of that world is a roller-coaster attendant.”

John got out of bed and went to the bathroom sink to pour himself a glass of water. As requested, Matt patiently waited as the troubled soldier returned to the bottom bunk and continued, “Believe me, being a guardsman is tiresome, but buckling seatbelts, directing people to the exits, and reciting safety rules hundreds of times a day is even more so.”

John went into a well-rehearsed spiel, “To make your coaster ride a safe one, be sure to stay seated with your seatbelts fastened, keeping your hands, arms, feet, and legs inside the car for the entire ride. Also, please secure your hats and any loose articles of clothing. Finally, refrain from using cameras and cellphones, and parents, please make sure your young children follow these few simple rules as well.”

He repeated the entire announcement in Spanish, and then added, “Thank you for riding the eighth wonder of the world, and please remain seated until the coaster comes to a complete stop. Only then can you release your seatbelts and walk to the nearest exit.”

Matt was either sleeping or paying quiet attention as John guzzled his water like he’d just run a marathon. When he was finished, he set down his empty glass and resumed his story, “You see, it’s much worse than march, march, marching up and down the square! But that’s not the whole dream; sometimes John goes out, but sometimes John comes home alone to his apartment and has dinner before falling asleep. That’s when I awaken…in fact I only wake up when the other John Smith falls asleep! Our lives are tied together in a…in a…in a Möbius strip!”

“Möbius strip?” Matt asked; he was paying attention.

“Don’t you remember from your school days? Geometry…it’s a one-sided geometrical shape.”

“One-sided? That’s impossible.”

“No it’s not. Just take a strip of paper and put a single twist in it…then tape the ends together; abracadabra…a Möbius strip! My day ends and his day begins; his day ends and mine begins; repeating ad nauseam…but the crux of it is: both of our lives are so bloody boring we wish they’d just end!”

“Again with the suicide, John? I hope to God your rifle is properly checked into the armory…I don’t want to wake up and find that you actually did it.”

“Don’t think I haven’t thought about it, Matt…but not tonight. Trust me; I followed all the proper procedures tonight.”

Matt breathed a sigh of relief, “Good, but since you’ve thought about killing yourself maybe you should go and see the doctor tomorrow.”

John was getting tired, so he kicked his feet up into his bed. “Maybe you’re right, buddy.”

“Of course I’m right, pal.” Matt was beginning to sober up, and he was getting tired too, but he felt that he had to ask, “You said the other John Smith has the same thoughts? How do you mean?”

The sound of snoring came from the bottom bunk, so Matt shook the bed and loudly repeated his question. “Johnny, you said the other John Smith has the same suicidal thoughts? Explain!”

“Two nights ago he bought a revolver,” John snorted his answer and immediately fell back asleep.

Matt jumped off the bunk and squatted on the floor next to his friend John. Now sober as a judge, he shook him hard and even slapped him, but John Smith’s third night of no sleep had finally caught up to him.

“Johnny! Johnny! WAKE UP!” Matt hollered, but the weary guardsman continued sawing logs like a lumberjack.

Matt got up and flung open their door. He shouted down the hall, “HELP! Johnny’s in trouble! He won’t wake up!”

A few doors opened revealing a handful of curious Queen’s Guards, just as a loud rapport resounded from behind Matt.

“NO!” Matt did a swift about face and ran to his friend’s bedside. “John! Please, no, no, no…” His words trailed off when he saw his friend John Smith quietly dying on his back; blood seeped from an exit wound in his temple the size of an American .357 magnum round.

Matt looked at the nearby wall, but the bullet had not continued its course. Matt searched for the foul handgun but it was nowhere to be found. John Smith breathed his final breath. Matt tried to hold on in quiet desperation as tears filled the entirety of his vision and his whole world melted into infinity.

March 12, 2021 04:23

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1 comment

David Brown
18:36 Apr 10, 2022

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