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Fiction Mystery

Double Whammy

I’m so tired. The last few weeks have been exhausting, and I need to just stop for a bit. But I can’t, can I? Not if I want to keep my job. Actually, I hate the bloody job, and I’d love to walk away into the sunset, holding two fingers up to the lot of them. How delicious would it be to tell Mr Simon Gibbons-Smyth where to stick his reports and his messages and his smug, oily face? But I need the money; don’t we all? So I’ll set the alarm for six, drag myself out of bed, shower, get dressed, eat some toast and drink two cups of coffee. Then I’ll get the the tube to Bank, walk to the office, smile at everyone, and work all day, mostly staring at a screen. Then home. Repeat. Repeat, Repeat. 

This isn’t life is it, not really? And I’m falling apart, trying to live it. 

Anyway, time for bed. I have a hot water bottle; too expensive to have the heating on at night. And it’s supposed to be good for you to sleep in a cold room. So they say - whoever they are. I really want to go to bed, but I don’t want to sleep. Because I might have nightmares again, and I just can’t cope with that right now. But if I don’t sleep it will be even harder tomorrow. rock/hard place/rock/hard place/rock/hard place. I catch sight of myself in the mirror when I clean my teeth. I try not to see my face when I brush; there’s something weird about the way my mouth distorts, changing my face so it looks more like my mother’s. Less said about her the better. I’ve inherited her wild wavy dark hair, but that’s it. We’re like chalk and cheese and we’ll never understand each other. I’ve stopped trying. My blue eyes are from my dad. I miss him, and I’d love to talk to him about what’s going on. But I don’t want to worry him, now he’s finally happy. So it’s down to me to figure it out, this weirdness. Anyway, I’m probably imagining it all. Bed. Fingers crossed.

Yay! No weird dreams, just out like a light and struggling up from sleep when the alarm went off. I sit at my desk this morning, scrolling through reports that are so badly written I want to delete them all, and order the idiots who wrote them to start again. Unfortunately, they’re all much more senior than me. So I have to suck it up. Get on with it. I report the computer screen’s annoying flicker to tech support. Again. I think that’s what’s giving me the headaches. Then I have to take minutes at a supremely boring meeting, send them out, made tea for everyone… I fantasise about running away to Costa Rica, or anywhere really. Quick sprint to Pret for my lunch, and I’m back, getting ready for the afternoon’s frustration and monotony. 

Aargh! My computer screen flickers more than ever, and now the bloody machine is having a breakdown. Well, I’m having a breakdown too, as I probably lost loads of work now it’s crashed. One minute I was typing at Olympic speed, the next there was an error message and the screen went dark. I call tech support in a bit of a panic. If I’ve really lost all that work… Mohamed comes to take a look. He’s the main techie. And he’s standing there shaking his head, ‘Oh dear. This doesn’t look good’ is NOT what you want to hear when you really, really need the technology to cooperate. He sits at my desk, trying to figure it out. I pace back and forth until Phil who sits behind me begs me to stop, as I’m driving him mad. I want to yell at Mohammed, tell him that if he’d come when I first reported the issues with the screen flicker, he could have prevented this disaster.

The tech breakdown is bad enough, but I’d thought I was going to get through the day without any weirdness. Then, at about half past three, I’m walking down the corridor towards the loo. And then I’m not. It feels as though the world is folding in on itself sideways when this happens. It’s hard to explain. Imagine origami, how you fold to make a bird and it’s nothing like a bird until you pull the last fold down. The feeling is like that final pull and twist. It makes me feel sick. It’s the same sensation as in the awful dreams I’ve been having. It’s happened in a the flat a few times too. But never as bad as this. The world tips and I’m in a grey mist. I can see shapes in the mist and there’s a high pitched sound, a bit like a really screechy violin, monotone, nasty. The mist twists, slithers. I’m aware of this ‘world,’ and the real one. I reach for a wall to lean on, slide down it, sweating, heart trembling. And along comes Esther Simmonds. Great, the office gossip has found me on the floor, probably gibbering. Her faux concern is almost as bad as whatever just happened. 

‘Oh dear, what’s the matter Millie?’ She crouches down beside me, furrowed brow looming too close. ‘Let me help you up.’

I pull back. ’No. Thank you. I’m fine. Just a dizzy spell.’

‘Oh, poor you! Time of the month is it?’ As if women routinely pass out all over the place when we’re menstruating. It’s mortifying, and I know it will be all round the office by tomorrow morning. ‘Did you hear? Poor `Millie Jones, you know, the junior in Mr Gibbons-Smyth’s department? She passed out yesterday. On her period. Poor girl.’ 

I want to scream.

But I just pick myself up, offer Esther a smile as fake as her own, and make it back to my desk. At least the bloody computer’s been taken away to be fixed. 

…………….

It’s Friday. And I’ve been so busy and weirded out that I’d forgotten. I’m meeting a couple of friends for drinks before i head home. They’re going clubbing after, but I’m too tired and, if I’m honest, I’m worried I might have a weird ‘episode.’ What is happening to me? I’m scared I might have a brain tumour or something. Or I might be going mad. Not sure which is worse. And I can’t talk to anyone about it. The girls I’m meeting tonight are really nice, but they’re new friends, and you can’t dump shit like this on new friends. They’d run a mile. That’s what happens when you leave home and come to the big city. My real friends, the ones who really know me, are about two hundred miles away. And I miss them. 

It’s nice, sitting in the corner of a buzzing wine bar though, chatting and making up stories about the people around us. ‘Look, the gorgeous one with the floppy dark hair.’ Claire fakes a Jane Austen heroine sigh. ‘He’s probably got a country estate and a vintage Bentley. We decide his name is Harry and he’s a promising young barrister. A small man with an unfortunate moustache is an imposter here, in this city venue. Probably wandered in from the suburbs, hoping to meet a beautiful girl. ‘Some hope he’s got!’ Sally cackles, and I feel sorry for the guy. We name him Barry. After an hour or so of wine, snacks and chat, it’s time for me to head home. The others try to persuade me to go with them, but I’m drooping with tiredness now. We pretend air kiss, ramping up the ‘darling!’s, being young and silly. Then I’m outside. And it’s started to rain. Oh joy.

…………….

My weekend was supposed to be restful and useful. Cleaning the tiny flat I rent, going for a walk along the nearby canal, and spending time with a good book, were all on the agenda. But Saturday’s a write off. I had a nightmare again last night, and it’s atmosphere has carried over into the day. I thought I could sense someone in the flat earlier, and an awful sick feeling is hanging around me like a shroud. I did feel better when I went out, walking fast and then running. Trying to work lethargy out of my muscles and nightmares out of my head. This evening’s bad though. I feel like I’m being watched, The hairs on the back of my neck are like antennae, and I think I see something flit past, from the corner of my eye. I crouch on the sofa, hugging a blanket and trying not to cry.

Sunday is better, although I’m still uneasy. I’ve opened all the windows and scrubbed the place from top to bottom, like a vigorous form of exorcism. It was very satisfying, and it worked. I don’t sense any imaginary presences. And I don’t dream that night.

I’m not going to go over the next few days in detail, because it’s boring. I was bored. And irritated. Still am. I lost a lot of work when the computer crashed, and I’m trying to redo it, as well as my usual work. It’s impossible. I’ve been staying at my desk way after I should have gone home, because the stuff I have to redo is ‘important.’ Important for who? Certainly not for me. I keep glaring at the new computer I’ve been issued, wanting to hit it. Hit something anyway. People are not designed to stare at a screen all day. I had a headache again earlier, just from focussing on it. But at least this screen wasn’t continually flickering, like the old one. If I were on my own I‘d screamed at the bloody thing. It’s all way, way too much. I get this scratchy feeling between my shoulder blades, at the back of my neck. It’s a discontent thing, a sort of physical manifestation of my frustration. It makes me want to tell Gibbons-Smythe to stick his job. I won’t though. But I have decided to look for another one. i’ve got six months experience now, so I should be employable elsewhere. This thought cheers me up. And I need cheering up, because, apart from being so overworked I can’t think straight, something’s definitely going on with the flat. It’s as though the dream has crawled out of my subconscious into my home. I keep thinking I can see something lurking in corners, and I nearly screamed the place down one evening because I thought I saw someone standing behind me when I looked in the mirror. I’ve booked a week off next week, and I’m going to stay with friends back home. Can’t wait.

…………..

Ah, the relief of being back in Bath! I still don’t think of London as home, and my flat feels even less homelike, since all the ‘strange goings on’, as my dad would say. 

Dad and Maria his lovely new wife, are away, but that’s OK. I’m here to see my besties. Rose, Sava and Kes have been my friends since junior school, and being back with them feels so good. Kes managed to get the week off work, so we can hang out in the daytime, and see with the others every evening. I’ve been back for two days now, and I’ve told Kes about my headaches, the dreams, and the new spookiness of my flat. It was good to talk about it, especially to Kes. She’s always been able to read me, and somehow make me feel better. She said the strange things that have been happening to me were like a computer glitch. We giggled at the thought of me ‘glitching,’ it’s such a silly word, but it fit. Kes is worried though, and she bullied me into going to see the doctor. I’m still registered at my old GPs surgery, haven’t bothered to change to a London one. He listened to my tale of woe and suggested I see a neurologist. Just in case. Well, that freaked me out. Bloody hell…. I’ll make an appointment when I get back to London. Kes will haunt me if I don’t. 

It’s Sunday and I’m on the train back to the new life that was supposed to be so exciting, but that’s turned out to be so hard. Waving at my three friends as the train pulls away from the station, I felt like crying. I’ve hardly had any headaches all week, haven’t had nightmares either. Haven’t so much looked at a computer. But, hey ho, it’s back to work I go.

……….

Monday morning. I wake up feeling groggy, didn’t sleep well. I drag myself to work. Gibbons-Smyth was in a filthy mood when I got there. I could hear him yelling at some poor sod on the phone. He’s still striding about in his office, visible and audible to all through the glass partition. I keep my head down, trying to catch up on the tasks that piled up when I was away. By ten o’clock I’m exhausted, and the headache is back. I take a short break and go outside for a breath of air. Air uncontaminated by yelling bosses and the sense of resentment that lingers over the office like a cloud. 

Tuesday is equally horrible, and when I get home I have that creepy feeling again, like someone’s watching me. 

Wednesday. I’ve just passed out in the loos. Full on ‘glitch.’ I was standing at the sink, washing my hands, and the world tipped sideways. I woke up on the floor, with two women I don’t know bending over me. They said my feet had been twitching. They were really lovely, insisting on taking me into an empty room and sitting with me until I felt functional again. I’ve got a bump on my head, from hitting the floor. I don’t remember the women’s names. One of them asked if I had epilepsy. I was too out of it to be scared at first, but thinking back on what she said… Bloody hell. Epilepsy… I googled it, and it fit with a lot of what I’d been experiencing, the headaches, the ‘glitches.’ Shit. I’ve made an appointment with the neurologist. 

Fast forward a week, and I have been diagnosed with Temporal Lobe Epilepsy. Apparently it can be triggered by the flicker of a computer screen, which can also give you headaches. Well. It seems that my job will have to go. But what else can I do? I’m off sick for now, spending time crying into my pillow. They don’t want to put me on any medication yet, as it can often be a temporary thing in women of my age, brought on by stress. Well, that fits! The epilepsy is probably not linked to the dreams and the strange glimpses of things I’ve been experiencing though. Damn.

I haven’t left the flat for three days. I haven’t done anything much, apart from trying to eat from time to time, and trying not to panic. And I’ve been seeing things again, flashes of movement out of the corner of my eye, faces sometimes, staring at me. I’m so tired, just want to sleep. But I don’t want to sleep. Because or the dreams. I wake up shaking and totter to the kitchen to get a glass of water. Then I’m sick in the sink. 

I’ve just had a shower and put on clean clothes, and there’s a hammering at the door. Not just a knock, more an assault. Someone’s calling out; ‘Hello, is anyone in there? This is an emergency!’

Wtf? I really don’t need this right now, but I call back that I’m in. ‘What’s the matter?’

‘You need to get out of the building, there’s a gas leak in the flat downstairs.’

I don’t know if this is some weird scam, or if it’s real. But I’m definitely getting out, just in case. I grab a coat and my bag, and fling the door open, phone and keys in hand. There’s a firefighter standing there. He escorts me outside, where all the people who live in my block, and who I’ve never even met, are gathered, talking worriedly. I’m confused, shaken and scared. A gas leak…. Then the firefighters ask us to move further away, and the woman from the cafe down the road arrives and invites us to have coffee and a warm place to sit until we can get back into our homes. But it seems we won’t be able to go back for quite a while. Turns out that the flat below mine has had a slow gas leak for ages, and that this morning the smell had got so strong that the guy who lives there finally called the emergency services. Also turns out that he’s been getting headaches and seeing things! I’m not going crazy, I was being poisoned, the gas was drifting up into my flat! This is all a bit much. One minute I’ve got epilepsy, the next minute my home’s been gassing me. We’re all lucky not to have been blown up! 

I’ve had enough.

We have to get checked out by a doctor, and then we’re left to sort out somewhere to go. Easy. I go to Paddington Station and jump on a train to Bath. A train home. Something is telling me that my ‘exciting new life’ has run it’s course. I’ll stay with Dad for a bit, while I figure out what comes next. It definitely won’t involve computers. Or gas stoves.

February 09, 2023 14:33

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3 comments

Helen A Smith
14:44 Feb 16, 2023

I enjoyed your story Kathy and liked the twist at the end. You conveyed a real sense of the MC’s isolation in London which I could relate to. A journey of self-discovery and realisation that she needed to be round people who made her happy. Probably not crucial, but I was curious to know how old the MC was and why the relationship was not great with her mother. I look forward to reading more of your stories.

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Kathy Trevelyan
18:57 Feb 16, 2023

Thanks Helen. She’s in her early twenties. I hadn’t thought about why her relationship with her mother is so bad, but you’re wondering about it made me realise that she had never really wanted a child, so was emotionally cold. Interesting what pops into our heads when we think about our characters!

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Helen A Smith
21:27 Feb 16, 2023

Our characters often take on a life of their own. I’ve discussed characters with a friend as though are real which is a bit weird!! She seems to understand.

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