Not Quite The Nine O Clock News
While their rain-soaked clothes dried on the infrared mangle in the lounge of their 23rd floor North London flat, friends, Charles Cruttwell and Alex Blench, ate that very English of delicacies, Mermaid on toast, and looked out at the evening waterscape from the window of their Trellick Tower flat. All, except the tip of The Gherkin Building to the East, was submerged, although to the west, The Pickled Onion could be glimpsed, as could the Chipfork Complex to the south, a building resembling a giant upside-down table in Battersea.
The Triton bulletin boomed across the room and the voice of Gavin Esler Jnr pricked Charles’ ear.
“Emergency! London is braced for torrential rain. Bands of low pressure are moving rapidly towards the capital. With the abolition of Tide Council marshals, any volunteers should meet in the low point Wealth Districts immediately.”
Alex and Charles stepped back from the window and faced each other. ‘Jez would’ve known what to do, wouldn’t he?’ Charles sighed.
‘Yes,’ Alex said quietly.
They shook the last of the city niads from their Nazarethan beards and sat down. Alex began stencilling the alphabet across a square of MDF Charles had found in a floating paladin.
Earlier that afternoon, both young adult men had been Carbon Dating: a lonely hearts agency for those who didn’t care about the environment. With a subscription exceeding a million, they were certainly not alone in being lonely or indeed refusing to go green. As the splashing waters of the capital lapped against the Caillech plinth, a monument to England’s shameful industrial past, people just didn’t care. For most the only concern was how not to drown.
London had become one big fag packet and nature had written a serious health warning down its side that no one bothered reading. Charles and Alex used to care greatly but stopped nearly a year ago.
It was 8pm and the lounge was full of Asopus candles. In near darkness, a poster of Charles’ new band The Witches hung on the eight-foot, breeze block wall opposite. The calendar on the door had ‘Jez’s Anniversary’ scribbled on the date 3rd September.
With Jez Christie, they were known nationally as the Trellick Trio: the future brains of England. Together they were invincible; down to two, they were nothing. Charles, an engineer; Alex, an inventor; and Jez, a six foot nine inch speaker of 97 languages, a brilliant communicator and highly principled natural leader. Where others said ‘yes’ for a quiet life, he was unconcerned saying ‘no’ for a loud one. He introduced the Paddlecab, the aquatic rickshaw; implemented Tide Councils; and the Homes on Stilts project. With the dissolution of Parliament after the shambolic Clegg Years, it was everyone for himself. Jez however said no.
He had first met Charles and Alex by the river wall. They hadn’t much direction in their lives at the time. He said, ‘Follow me.’ They did. Together they formed an alliance based on one principal:
Never look down upon someone unless you are giving them a hand-up.
Jez was killed on September 3rd 2057, crushed against a jetty by a bendy-boat along Tottenham Court Harbour.
- – - – - – - – - – - -
It was Alex who had decided upon the Ouija board idea. They each placed their right hands on two upturned glasses, and held them firmly on the board. They called out to Jez and awaited movement but nothing happened. After half an hour, and feeling deflated, they sat back. Charles was ready to watch his favourite soap ‘Harpies’ on his Inward Eye but just as Alex tried tempting him to continue with the Ouija Board, there was an explosion. The lounge door was flung open. A huge gust threw them back, practically stapling their buckling limbs and shocked faces to their chairs. Voices seemed to swirl on the carrying wind like a class of screaming schoolchildren coming off the rails of a rollercoaster. Horrific cries, bones breaking, horses whinnying. At its peak, it sounded like the end of the world on vinyl played backwards. Then silence.
A voice boomed, ‘Zephyrus, Notus, Eurus, Boreus … This is the Quadricentennial Victim Conduit from the Four Winds. This is the year 2058. You are looking for Jez Christie. To access him, you must first release the next Quadricentennial Victim.’
‘What?!!’ scoffed Alex and Charles, concealing their growing fears with little skill.
The Conduit continued, ‘Every purgatorial term lasts a minimum of four hundred years. It only ends when a living person breaks it, nearly always someone looking for an old friend.
‘Whaaat?’ asked Charles again, looking around the room for the source of this strange voice.
The conduit concluded, ‘If you want Jez Christie back, decide whether a person who died 400 years ago in 1658, deserves to return to this world of yours. Should you use the board again, I will return then.’
Alex stood wide-eyed, with his frowning eyebrows almost meeting his hairline in shock. Charles was hysterical, pacing up and down the room. Outside, the monsoon klaxon sounded for the first time that month. Neighbours’ shouts from the floors below seemed to get louder and more desperate as the flood waters rose.
‘Charles, did you get that?’
‘Yes, to get Jez back we have to release someone from purgatory. Shall we do it?’
‘What, and have some Elizabethan corpse stinking out the flat?’
‘If it means getting Jez back, yeah.’
Moments later they returned to the board.
‘Zephyrus, Notus, Eurus, Boreus. This is the QVC … The year is 2058. I shall give you a snapshot of the year 1658. Are you sure you want this?’
‘Yeah, absolutely. We’re nothing without Jez,’ Alex yelled impatiently.
The Conduit sighed, ‘Good luck. You’ll need it. Please place hands firmly on the glass tumblers. They will move quite suddenly and with force.’
The wind disappeared and one of the glasses started to jolt instantly across the letters on the board.
‘O’ ‘I’ ‘E’ there was a pause ‘O’ ‘E’
‘What on earth does that mean?’ questioned Charles. ‘Is it binary code or something?’
‘No, but it doesn’t say Jez either. Oh, hang on, it’s just vowels,’ Alex discerned.
‘Oh yeah, sorry, I’m doing consonants, aren’t I?’
‘Wake up Charles.’
Instantly the glasses moved again.
‘L’ ‘V’ ‘R’ there was a pause ‘C’ R’ ‘M’ ‘W’ ‘L’ ‘L.’
It didn’t take long. As if in slow motion, they lifted their heads and stood open-mouthed.
‘Ohhhhhhh nooooo!’ they wailed in unison.
‘Alex,’ he whispered, ‘Sling Launchpedia on!’
Alex did so. They sat huddled together and began reading the laser projection.
“On September 3rd 1658 he finally died … Slaughter of the Royalists… genocide of the Irish, deposed … murder … posthumous execution”
‘It IS! It’s Oliver bloody Cromwell, Nooooo!’ Alex shouted.
Charles started pacing the room, extinguishing candles with sucked fingers. ‘My God!’ he exclaimed, biting nervously at the tops of his thumbs. The Ouija glasses shattered. Outside, the tide levels rose rapidly. The room shook. The window smashed and rain rushed in, lashing their ghost-white faces. Awful rotting smells erupted above the table. Fissures of dark reds spattered the walls which vomited back chunks of putrid flesh.
‘God, this is what it felt like when Cromwell ruled!’ gasped Charles.
Ferocious screams fizzed across the room like tortured fireworks.
The Conduit wind returned. ‘I’ll spare you the spiel. How desperate are you for Jez?’
‘W-w-w-we want him back. He’s our leader. But we didn’t want THIS!’ they sobbed.
‘Leader, you say? Yes, he led a full life, then died. You two however do nothing. I’ve a man called Oliver in the purgatorial corridor here. From what I see, he hasn’t changed his ways much. If you saw what he did to Catholics and Royalists with his puritanical zeal, just imagine what he’d enjoy doing in this morally bankrupt time. And, as for you two, with posters of witches on your wall, Ouija boards and one of you having the name Charles … Anyway, do you want Jez, yes?’
There was silence for a few minutes. Charles and Alex exchanged a look neither had shared before. It was as though the meaning of life had just flown into the room. Colour and confidence returned to their faces. Charles looked at the 24 hour Trellick clock. It was 20:58 and the Nine O’ Clock News was just about to start.
The conduit jumped in, ‘Thirty seconds, then I’m gone. Do you want him?’
Outside, the sound of children’s wailing cries was getting louder and closer. Alex ran to the shattered window, families in their dozens, screaming for help, water levels now touching the sills of the eighteenth floor.
‘Help, he-e-lp, we’re drowning, he-e-e-lp’.
Charles joined Alex at the window. They looked at each other, smiled determinedly, embraced briefly and knew that something had changed within them. They remembered the principal they used to live by with Jez.
They looked down at the drowning families, and offered a hand up.