There is a wall and, across the dark room, another wall.
I walk between them. Getting there – to the other wall – is the goal. What is in the middle is mere mathematics: five strides sees me across the old stone floor, and I practice so that my toe touches the far wall exactly on the fifth . . . the edges of the room are safer; I have no idea why . . .
Words come back. ‘It is as though I were dead.’ That came from a book, I think; one I had read recently. But, when I try to focus on the source, it seems to pull away, as though there were another reality that teased with its existence, but would not be grasped.
How long, now? How long have I been locked in here? One hour, maybe two? One pace, two paces, three . . . I stop at three, drowning in the exact middle of the dark space of the cell in Bakewell Jail. They can’t leave me here! Look, this is just a mistake, you don’t understand, we were only . . .
There is sound like the breech of an old rifle being loaded. The shutter mechanism in the ancient, heavy door slides back, revealing nine vertical slits of the face of the man I have christened Yellow Eyes. He looks in at me, then barks through the grill, “Back from the door – far wall.”
I was shown the drill when I entered; wearing the plain, grey prison pyjamas. They understand vulnerability in here; specialists I would say – very at home in an ancient backwater in deepest Derbyshire, where inspections are few and far between. I move back to stand facing the far wall and the key turns in the lock. Yellow Eyes enters.
“Present for you, m’lud.”
I hear him slap something down on the table. I’ve only been in here for a matter of hours, but already he’s used the term ‘M’lud’ several times. There’s a bitterness there, a bullying bitterness as though the stone we moved was his personal possession; and now he seeks his carefully crafted revenge in this, his kingdom, where I am imprisoned, on remand for our crime. I shudder at the thought of being under this man’s control, as his words fill my cell with his fetid breath and the image of a cruel smile that glistens around irregular teeth.
I turn to look at my ‘present’. I had asked for notebook and pen, to create a journal that would help me in this solitude. It isn’t there, but the small table, my only non-plumbing furniture apart from the bed, has several objects on it.
I need him to understand that I shouldn’t be here. “I really shouldn’t” . . . but he cuts me off.
“The Guv’nor checked it over,” he says, ignoring me and pointing at the torn parcel of brown paper on the small, metal table. “Seems your mother has sent you a parcel . . .” he sniggers. “Yes, we’ve checked, in case it was your accomplices, but no, it’s not – but don’t worry, we know you had help and we’ll catch them eventually; and anyway, we got to jail the ringleader!”
But no, they didn’t. Their six dark assassins of my freedom converged on the man stupid enough to go back for Wen’s air- rifle, with which she had expertly shot out the street lights around Bakewell’s All Saints Church. There’s your ringleader, I want to shout out . . . but I don’t. I don’t because something huge flies across the back of my consciousness, something that silences and invites deeper thought; something more real than anything in here . . .
Time seems not to have passed while I considered the implications of this. I stare down at the package. Its plain, white string has been cut in several places. There is something else beneath the parcel, something large and pale.
“And we thought you might like a copy of the local newspaper, M’lud,” he says. “Happy reading . . .” The sound is a chortle.
He says nothing more. Just turns and marches out, military like, slamming shut the heavy, steel door and turning the huge key in the old, but well-oiled lock.
Wanting to save the best for last, I first pick up the local newspaper, the Bakewell Gazette. There is something chilling about seeing your fate spread across the headlines in this way, something that speaks of a gateway entered into, a one-way turnstile to a spectator sport . . . and I’m the sport, it would appear . . .
Ben’s Bit is a continuing first-person narrative of the character created by Stuart France and Sue Vincent, which may bear some relation to the author of this blog, Steve Tanham, their fellow director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness. In the latest of their books, Scions of Albion, Ben is arrested for his overly enthusiastic part in a mad escapade, and the other two are nowhere to be seen . . . For more, enjoy their Doomsday series of books, and the new series (Lands of Exile) beginning soon. Click here for details.