I'm a Writer, Musician, Husband and Father. I've worked in the real world and pursued music relentlessly for many years, before finally deciding to complete an idea I had many years ago. The result is self published E-Book, The Marie Celeste Dinner & Dance Club.
The Marie Celeste Dinner & Dance Club
This is a short story, based on an idea I've been knocking around for a while. One of those little ideas that come when you're trying to concentrate on something else and that cannot, in any way be woven into the larger fabric you are trying to create.
The story contains strong/offensive language throughout and should not be read by anyone who is offended by such.
Martin James - 25/09/15
The traffic was appalling. Jim had been trying to make his usual thirty minute journey home, for nearly an hour now. He glanced at the clock, all chrome and sweeping curves, set into the stealth, matt black finish of his cars dashboard. He could feel his blood pressure rising. A half day away from the office. A rare, half a freaking day off, trickling away, second by second whilst he sat here in the jam. The second hand on the dashboard clock swept around in a graceful arc; reflective silver against a luminescent blue background. He watched its circuit, silently seething as a further minute passed him by. Even the lack of sound annoyed him.
When he'd visited the car showroom two months earlier, selecting the latest addition to his garage, the salesman had maintained an air of helpful obsequiousness; all fixed smile and slightly anxious eyes, whilst Jim dismissed suggestion after suggestion. The wrong engine, wrong wheels, wrong finish, wrong leather, wrong entertainment system and the clock. “That clock, is not staying!” The colour change digital LED unit, fitted as standard. “Certainly sir, we have the latest Swiss crystal mechanism, that can be fitted at no extra cost...”
“I cannot abide the sound of that infernal `Tick`, I want the latest TAG smooth motion” he'd demanded from the beleaguered salesman.
“Er, Sir, that um, carries a significant increase in the er...” the man had stammered in his nervousness. “Do I look like that would be an issue?” Jim had interrupted bluntly.
Jim smiled maliciously at the memory of bullying the irritating little creep. He'd spent a monstrous amount of money on the car and the salesman had made a significant amount of commission on the sale. Jim had known this and had felt obliged to make him work for his money. Even though he'd known way in advance of his visit, which make, model and Spec he would be buying. The car in front edged forward. Jim shifted position slightly, gently depressing the accelerator pedal and creeping forward into the space just vacated by the beat up old Ford in front of him. Jim flicked a switch on the steering console, “Alternate route, avoiding main road to...” he spoke slowly and precisely, ensuring the on-board computer could identify clearly his instructions. “Stand by, calculating alternate routes.” A female synthesised voice spoke, enunciating carefully, the preprogrammed words. Jim found himself imagining what a woman looked like, who could sound like that. Tall, immaculately dressed, cold, monochromatic shades. “Turn right onto Albert Terrace, 20 metres,” the Sat-Nav spoke, interrupting his musing. Jim shifted the car into gear, pulled out into the wrong lane and roared down the road for about 20 metres before turning into a narrow, terraced street, with a squeal from the protesting tyres.
Jim shifted the car into Sports Mode and raced down the narrow street. Responding to the instructions from his Sat-Nav, he took a sharp left turn, swerving wildly to avoid a large white van. Jim had his hand out of the window, middle finger raised even before 'White Van Man' had yelled his choice obscenities at the rapidly disappearing car. Jim grinned wildly into the rear view mirror, seeing the receding van door open and the driver lean out, gesturing crazily at him. More turns followed, right then left then left again. The engine roared and tyres screeched, Jim laughing as he went, intoxicated by the driving, reminiscent of the console games he played in his youth. “Shit, I'd better call Deb,” he spoke aloud, remembering his wife was waiting at home for him, a wild road trip into the heart of the countryside, the plan. “Directory, Contact Number One, Deb.”
“Standby, Contact Number One, Dialling” the husky voiced computer announced. The phone connected and he waited, controlling the speeding car as the ring tone sounded. After six rings, there was a click as it switched to voice-mail mode. “Hey Deb, I'm on my way babe. Been stuck in one fuck of a jam, don't know what caused it. Probably an accident somewhere.” He continued to drive as quickly as he thought he could safely go, whilst he spoke. “Anyway, I'm taking an alternate route round the back streets and will be with, Woah, Shit!”
Jim slammed his foot to the floor, depressing the brake pedal with all the force he could muster, almost standing upright with the effort. As the car shot out of the side street, a large HGV rig, hauling a huge tanker trailer, had driven across in front of him. He pulled at the steering wheel, jerking the car hard to the right in his efforts to avoid the truck. Involuntarily, he found his eyes closing, as he braced for the impact that he knew was coming. Time slowed and far away he could hear the squeal of protesting tires. For a fraction of a second he felt his neck snap sharply to the side; the sliding tires, biting into the tarmac, suddenly finding purchase and propelling the car away from impending disaster. Jim's eyes flared wide open, a burn of adrenaline, an incendiary fire, that flared through his synapses. Time tracked painfully past him. He fought the wheel that tried to pull from his hands and then he was in free air, the engine howling in protest as he shifted gear and eased back in his seat. A vague aroma of petrol, made his nose crease before it was swept away by the air circulation system.
Jim exhaled. The buildings blurred past as he raced on, the tanker stationary behind him, receding in his mirrors. He glanced once behind him and lowered his eyes, a deep, resounding laugh bubbled up from within him. “Fuck!” he spat the word out, “Fuck me, that was fucking close!” An orange flare, lit the rear view mirror for a moment and was gone. “Shit, Deb,” he spoke, remembering he was still in a phone call to his wife. “Shit, just had a massive near miss. Will just head on home and be with you soon babe.” He flicked a switch on the central console disconnecting the in car phone. He reset the aircon unit, bringing the in car temperature down in response to the sudden burst of heat that washed over him. A reaction to the near miss, a dreadful surge of adrenaline that washed over and through him, leaving beads of sweat across his forehead.
Jim grimaced, dragging a hand across his forehead. The brilliant sunshine of the early afternoon started to fade, making Jim curse again, as dark clouds gathered in the sky above. Out of the gloom ahead, he could make out another car approaching. As it neared, he rubbed his eyes, the approaching car shifted, blurring in the encroaching gloom. To Jim's eyes it looked like a flaming convertible, four howling demons, leering and screaming at him as they neared. He blinked, disbelieving what he saw and the vision changed, the sunlight lancing through the clouds, becoming a normal car. Just a bunch of loud mouthed youngsters, shouting and laughing as they passed. He winced a sudden burst of excruciating pain in his right leg. He tried to relax his muscles, letting the pain causing tension, dissipate.
Jim shook his head, trying to clear the vision from his mind. High time I had a day off, he thought, I nearly killed myself then and now I'm hallucinating. He lifted his foot from the accelerator, easing the break neck speed he'd been driving at. He glanced to the side of the road, where a group of pedestrians were shambling along. One of them, a young boy, stood staring as he drove past. Jim felt his eyes widen, “My God!” he spoke the words involuntarily, “What a freak!” The right hand side of the boys face was normal, pale unblemished skin; dark, shaggy hair above. The left though, a mass of bloody scars; an empty eye socket and bone white, showing through tufts of spiky, blood caked hair. Jim twisted in his seat as he passed by, staring fixedly at the boy. He faced forwards once more, braking slightly to maintain a safe distance to the car in front of him. He glanced in the mirror, the boy, remaining still on the pavement, arm out stretched to point at Jim's car as he quickly disappeared into the distance. “They're all out today”, he muttered under his breath, continuing his drive home.
As he drove, he considered the enormity of the accident he'd narrowly avoided. He could picture it. He could see the side of the tanker getting closer to him, before he smashed into the side. “Shit” he spoke the word softly. The mental images vivid, he pictured the side of the tanker splitting and its contents gushing out onto the road, an iridescent cascade, that flared in the sunlight. The faintest aroma of spilt fuel, teased at his olfactory nerves. Jim tore his mind back to the present, his journey had continued whilst he'd mused on what might have been.
Jim turned the wheel, hearing the soft crunch of his tires, as he rolled onto the gravel covered driveway of his home. The sky had become darker and more forbidding during the twenty minutes it had taken him to complete the journey and he had never been more relieved to arrive home than at any other time. The car swept majestically down the gentle curve of the drive before he manoeuvred around the house, heading to the large garage at the rear. He nodded in satisfaction, observing Debs little two seater roadster, parked out front of the large house; glad that his wife was driving the car she'd fought so hard against having. Jim pulled up before the expansive garage, large enough to contain three cars, side by side. He clicked a button on the key fob and the garage door silently folded into the roof, whilst inside a light flickered into life. A moment later and he reversed the car into its usual space. He glanced momentarily at the pop up LED screen on the console displaying the view to the rear of the car, looking away before the car had stopped moving, a manoeuvre he'd performed a thousand times before.
Jim blinked. His vision blurring, a wave of nausea washed over him as he felt the cramp in his leg. He took a long, rasping breath, chest tight, lungs burning. He coughed, gasping with the strain, twisting to look out of the side window. A helmeted face, peering back at him. Features obscured by a face mask. Jim yelled at the hidden face, squeezing his eyes tight.
Jim blinked, walking towards the house, hearing behind him, the double click as the car locked itself and the faint electric whine as the garage door slowly descended. He shook his head again, clearing the vision of what might have been if he'd hit the tanker. He could see his wife, Deb, through the kitchen window, the phone to her ear, pacing backwards and forwards, in and out of view. Her face was ghostly, her right hand raised to her mouth as she listened to the voice on the other end of the line. “Fucking hell, what now?” he swore as he approached, the distress on his wife's face clear. He opened the door that led into the spacious, all state of the art, fully equipped utility room. Deb had been most insistent when the house was built, every labour saving appliance, every upgrade that only the best money could provide. The cleaner was very happy with the arrangement and it meant that Jim was paying top dollar to a cleaner, who spent most of her two hours a day sat in the kitchen with Deb, drinking tea and eating biscuits, whilst the devices did the work. He'd even paid for one of the first robot vacuum cleaners.
“Deb?” he called out shutting the door behind him, “Are you all right?” He heard the sharp click of her heels on the granite tile floor of the kitchen. “What's happened?” He opened the door to the kitchen as the hallway door shut, he vaguely heard the sound of a stifled sob from the hall, then the click and slam of the front door. “Shit!” He swore as he heard the throaty roar of the roadsters engine firing into life, followed by scattering gravel as she pulled off, wheels spinning. He paced across the kitchen to the fridge, mouth dry, grabbing a glass from the drainer and punching the button for iced water. He filled and drained the glass twice, before rinsing it under the tap and replacing it on the drainer. Automatically he pulled a handful of change from his pocket, gold and silver coins dropped unthinking into the substantial, swear/holiday jar on the side. The action long since become a habit, the jar nearly full, all from Jim's pocket. Ready to empty again. He idly glanced at the window, missing his reflection and wondering if the polarising glass meant there wouldn't be one. On the magnetic notice board was a hastily penned note in Debs hand writing. “Dad's been in an accident, meet me at the hospital.”
“Fuck!” Jim swore, “Fuckety Fuck!” The old git irritated him sometimes but he was a decent enough old man. Jim reached into his pocket for his keys, with any luck he could make it to the hospital before his wife and be there waiting for her. He ran for the back door, glancing at the corner of the room, the steady red light on the motion sensor that linked into the security system. He made a mental note to call the engineers out; damn thing wasn't working, it should have been flickering wildly, picking up his movement. The door shut behind him.
Jim strode across the gravel behind the house, returning to the garage where only a short time earlier he had left his car. The doors whirred open, moving smoothly upwards and the lights flashed twice on the car as it unlocked at his approach. He slid into the drivers seat and flicked a number of small switches, the engine growled softly, as he gently depressed the accelerator pedal. He pulled the paddle on the steering column and the car leapt forwards, tires sliding on the gravel as he steered around the house and back onto the road. As he accelerated away, heading in the direction of the hospital, he cursed, peering through the windscreen at the gloom and mist that had risen in the ten minutes or so since he had been in his house. The sensor on the car should have automatically triggered the headlights, but the dash board light was dark. He pushed the manual selection button, the beam blazing out ahead of him in response.
As he drove, Jim flicked the switch for the in car entertainment system, the radio rewarding him with a loud burst of static. He selected another station and again was greeted by static. He tried a third and fourth time and again, each time he got the same result. As he drove he left one of the disconnected radio stations tuned in for a moment, changing gear before he could try another choice. For a moment, he imagined he heard voices hidden in the white noise. Screaming and howling, insane cackling laughter, that chilled him. He flicked forward, twice more before the noise was still, broken by a male voice. A smooth, warm baritone, reassuring in its depth. Talk radio. Jim loathed talk radio. Bunch of pompous arseholes, talking all sorts of crap. Going round in ever decreasing circles until they disappeared up their own arses.
“So, Ray,” The Baritone spoke, apparently to a studio guest, “What do you think the chances of a break through are here?”
“Well Michael,” a deep resonant Bass voice answered, “at this stage it's a little difficult to say. Iago is fighting ferociously, not only against what his senses are telling him about his current circumstances but also against his rapidly dissipating mortality. Can Iago break through? I believe he can Michael, but do I believe he desires this?” Jim rolled his eyes, the same old rubbish.
“Radio sodding four, just my luck!” he muttered to himself.
“I do believe your summation of the situation, Ray, to be most accurate, with the continued rejection of what is right before the subjects eyes”, the baritone waffled on in the background, as Jim continued to drive. He shivered, feeling a chill. He adjusted the heating in the car, raising the temperature. “British Summertime,” he complained to himself. He could still hear the voices on the radio wittering on in the background, unwilling, despite his dislike of the format, to turn the radio of and endure silence; or to attempt a further retune and risk hearing the cacophonous howling of the static. He felt a little like the two men on the radio were passengers in his car and he imagined he could feel their presence behind and beside him. He glanced to his left, fancying he could see a black enshrouded shape in the passenger seat. He looked up to the mirror, a shimmer as some insubstantial and amorphous form caught his vision before dissipating like mist.
Damn it, Jim thought, how close I came, it sounds like the old man didn't miss. He wondered what had happened? He imagined the old man, trapped in a tangled web of twisted metal, the remnants of his car. Would he be alive or dead? His body, an organic, mangled wreck, echoing the ruined car that would be his outer skin. He could picture the old man trapped in the wreck, the emergency services fighting to cut him free. His vision shifted and he swerved, pulling anxiously at the wheel. For a moment his vision had shifted, burning smoke tearing his eyes, he'd felt himself falling into the image, replacing the old man. He felt a pain in his chest and leg, hearing the shouts of people working. Was that what the old man had experienced? What he was possibly feeling? God help him.
“Ray, what kind of influence are you exerting here?” the deep baritone of the speaker identified as Michael, intruded again into Jim's consciousness. Jim snorted. “Michael, you may find it hard to believe but there is no external influence being placed here, Iago is merely fighting against the myriad aspects of his own Id.” Jim shook his head, he could hear distant sirens, breaking through the talk radio program. “So what choices await Iago, Ray?”
“The primary choice, Michael, is simply, does he wish to continue?” the dark, heavy bass voice, reminiscent of a lecturer, “the second consideration would be, does he have the strength of will to exercise sufficiently, to experience reality as it relates to him and the third and final consideration would be, does he wish to experience reality?”
“What a crock of shit!” Jim swore, his voice loud over the sound of the radio. “This traffic is fucking lousy,” he shifted gear and pulled around a car that had without warning pulled to the left. As it stopped the indicator flashed on, “LEARN TO FUCKING DRIVE!” He leant across the passenger seat, yelling at the offending driver. “Moron!” he muttered under his breath. His eyes flicked down at the console to check his speed. “Fuck!” he swore again, his hands on the wheel, red and dripping with blood, huge weeping blisters across the back of his hands. He tore his left hand off the wheel, staring in horror at it. Perfectly normal and unmarked. His right still gripping the wheel was the same. “What the... I must be losing it.”
“So what's happening now Ray?” Michaels rich baritone cut through on the radio. “Well Michael, reality is starting to bleed through the illusion.”
“And the loss of temper?” the first voice again.
“As the walls start to collapse impatience rises and bursts of anger escape, as we've just seen.” Jim looked down at the radio, disbelief and suspicion flickering in equal measure through his mind. “The incident with the other road us...” Jim flicked the off switch before the sentence could be completed. He frowned, gripping the wheel tighter, depressing the accelerator firmly to the floor. “Must get to the hospital, Deb needs me.” He raced on, hearing a vague sound of sirens from somewhere in the distance.
He turned the wheel, steering the car into the hospital grounds, round twisting avenues and roadways, past the car park, heading to the drop off point for A&E. An ambulance was stationary at the main entrance, blue lights flashing redundantly. The car screeched to a halt behind the ambulance and Jim leapt from it racing to the rear doors. He wrenched them open to reveal an empty compartment. Turning away, he could see Deb's little roadster, abandoned, parked askew on the small car park opposite the hospital doors. He ran to the entrance, pushing through violently, “Deb!” he yelled, his voice echoing down the corridor. He ran, his footsteps silent as he pushed his way through the infuriatingly, shambling people making their own somnambulistic way, on issues of their own. He shoved and grappled as he made his way, they were too slow, unresponsive as he fought his way past, ignoring him as he struggled. “Deb!” he yelled again, “Debbie!”, tears starting from his eyes. Ahead in the corridor, two tall figures in white medical coats turned to face him.
“My wife, Debbie, she's here with her father,” he gasped, out of breath ”an accident!” The taller of the two, gestured to a side door, stepping to one side without a word. Jim peered through the glass, seeing Deb stood over a bed, her hands outstretched, grasping something, a heavily bandaged hand, hanging limply from her grasp. “Deb!” he sobbed, struggling to breathe once again. Beside his wife was her mother, a caring arm draped over his wife's distraught shoulders. On Debs other side stood their daughter, Jen, head down, her shoulders heaving with great tearing sobs that shook her small frame. Across Jen's shoulders was the arm of his father in law.
Jim felt his blood freeze, turning to ice in his veins, time stopping. He turned, slowly, to look again at the Doctor who had gestured him in. The figure was tall, over seven feet tall, now that he looked closely. A towering, foreboding figure, enshrouded in heavy, impenetrable black robes. The face that was shaded in the robes wasn't an unkind face. It wasn't a kind face. It was cold, emotionless, the face shifted and a fleshless skull looked down at him for a moment. “Well, James,” a golden baritone voice from behind him. “What's it going to be?” Jim turned, the other Doctor was equally as tall, flowing golden hair and radiant, alabaster flesh with a golden tinge. “Do I have a choice?” Jim asked Michael, low voiced, hopeless with realisation. “Yes James, there is a choice. You can say goodbye now or,” Michael paused, “you can go in there and stay. It will be a long and painful process, but you can, if you choose, get through it.” Jim nodded thoughtfully. He looked up at the two figures and turned, pushing through the doorway. A blinding light flashed out at him, and he tried to raise his arms to shield his face. The pain hit like an express train, washing over him in a sea of agony, “DEB!” he screamed out as his eyes flared open.
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