There is fury in Bakewell Gaol. Outside my cell, doors are being flung open, tables are being thumped and voices are raised in what serves as the interview room. Despite pressing my ear to the shuttered grill, through which Yellow Eyes often studies my incarcerated movements, I can never quite make out the details of the heated conversations.
They wouldn’t be that stupid…
How long has it been now? Several weeks, at least, since I lost my liberty and was thrown into this once proud but now rotting stone hole. The days have become grey. The word reminds me of one of my main adversaries, the good Doctor, who shares the name ‘Grey’; the same colour as my faceless remand uniform. Dr Grey seems to be at the centre of this storm. I catch his footsteps and snippets of his voice as he takes his ‘guests’ down the corridor and into the rooms beyond. It’s a poor place, Bakewell Gaol, but, for once, its paucity of facilities is hurting them more than me.
From the snippets of his voice I can tell he’s beginning to get very flustered. it would be funny were it not precipitous – if he slides down the mountain of complexity they have created out of a simple incident, who will replace him? Better the devil, perhaps…
I make some assumptions and end up marvelling at the problems that a helpless man can create. How did I do this to them? I ask myself, pretending to have a power I do not believe I possess…
Them… What do I know of them? I pretend I’m playing a murder mystery game… actually shouting out to prove I exist, to try, however hopelessly, to impact the frantic process outside. What have I got to lose?
I begin to wind up my pretend audience in the envisaged manner of a Victorian music hall ‘chairman’, “Well, ladies and gentlemen,” I begin. “on Character Card One we have the renowned Dr Grey,” I sneer. “in the thick of it – technically in charge of the investigation into the sanity of the villain, an ex-businessman who swapped respect for the theft, no, relocation of an ancient stone; oh, and yes,” I lower my voice conspiratorially and shake my head. “who shot out the lights near Bakewell’s All Saint’s church, to cover his tracks – like that worked!” …sniggers of approval from the appreciative audience as the narrator spins to include them all in this travesty of an foredoomed incident.
I pace around the edge of my vast room – it takes all of ten strides – shouting, “Card Two: We have Dr Grey’s assistant, the lovely, silky black haired and very sexy – yes even in here…” I make my voice curl up in tone “…seeeexy Miss Golding, known locally as Miss Goodnight of the heels!” I make sure the words are aimed with maximum energy at the narrow grill, my communication plate with the outside world, meagre though it is.
I pause for breath, drawing myself taller with the intake. “Character Card three!” I’m really getting into this. For a second I hear a noise outside my cell and wonder if someone has come out from one of the frantic ‘meetings’ to listen to the lunatic in Cell One… but the noise does not continue, so I resume my creative rant. “Character Card three is the famous Yellow Eyes – our local guard here in Bakewell Gaol – a dour fellow, big as a tree and strong as an ox.” I turn my voice into a hiss as I spin to share the deadly picture. “Not a man to be crossed!” I nod as the spinning audience hisses with me… it’s like a punch and judy show, what fun…
“Character Card Four is the mysterious prison Guv’nor… whose face has yet to be seen!” I nod, again, as I rotate to face them all, raising my eyebrows. “Does he really exist? Or is he just a convenient bogeyman for Yellow Eyes to refer to during our lunatic’s nighty night stories?” They nod back, wise to the ways of the devious – they’ve seen such plots before…
“Character Card Five is the mysterious figure in the dreams, in the visions and possibly…” I wait to play my ace… “the source of the confusion outside!” I smile, showing them the vast reserves I still have left in this battle. “Oh yes… a rich and powerful figure… or is he just a figment of a sad mind, too long locked in this dreadful place?” They have sympathy, but one or two of them prod each other as if to say, look, he knows something he’s not supposed to… It’s an interesting development, and even I’m surprised that this has surfaced at this point. Perhaps the techniques of mystical disconnectedness have thrown up another fact, like the time my inner enquiry threw up the knowledge that Yellow Eyes was actually a church warden of All Saints, and therefore personally hurt by my heinous crime…
“Card Six, ladies and gentlemen, the last…” I make them wait. “Is…” But the sound of a large key opening the old and well oiled lock of my cell door overcomes the high point of the performance.
Yellow Eyes is standing there. I suspect he had been there for some time – sent by ‘the meeting’ to investigate the shouting. He pushes the door so that it opens, slowly, swinging on its full arc and crunching into the crumbling plaster of the ancient cell. This is new… he’s never deliberately damaged part of his kingdom before. Standing perfectly still, he glares at me. Every cell in my body wants to back up against the far wall – somewhere I’m supposed to retreat to on his entrance, but I have noticed that there is something else new about him… His face is streaked with sweat. He’s a man of unpleasant hygiene at the best of times, but I’ve never seen him look like this before.
With nothing to lose, I actually feel myself walking towards him… As I get closer I can hear his breathing – it’s ragged with rage. His eyes widen as I approach, fearlessly – or insanely – studying the sweating mountain of a man.
His hands curl into fists as I close the distance. I can see he’s fighting for breath… I envisage the three steps that will bring me face to face with his enraged hugeness, and begin to walk to my death…
“Sorry,” says the little man, who darts through the gap between Yellow Eyes’ legs and the old iron door frame. “The agency sent me on the last minute,” he continues. “… in response to a call from the Governor.” He rolls his eyes and comes to stand between me and the beast in the doorway. “I’m to do what I can to clean the place up for you… make you feel a bit more… looked after…” he looks up at me, apologetically. For a second I wonder if I’m hallucinating, wonder if Yellow Eyes has dealt me a thunder-blow to the head and I’m really lying in the corner of the cell with a broken brain and blood dripping from what’s left of my nose.
But I’m not… and, in a further surreal twist, when I look beyond the diminutive newcomer, the doorway is empty… Yellow Eyes is gone.
“Sorry,” says the little man in front of me. “Didn’t mean to barge in like that, but you looked like you could use a distraction!” He chuckles…
I can’t take this any more, and begin to laugh hysterically… My visitor pats me on the back, heartily. “Excellent approach,” he says “Best way – laugh it all off, after all who’s to say what’s real and what’s not?”
I fall back on the bed, still rocking with the sheer madness of all this…. but there’s an intense feeling of what I can only call ‘gladness’ about his presence.
“Marco,” he says, holding out his hand. “Just Marco…” His thin lips curl into a smile and, for a second, he reminds me of a character in an old black and white film where a humble detective of his stature proved to be unkillable; and the baddies all went to jail while he walked away at the end, laughing and whistling… and very much alive.
I take his hand and manage a thank you. I set out to say hello but thank you comes out.
“You rest up now and I’ll clean this place up,” he says, putting down his large bag of cleaning implements and materials. “Be amazed what a spring clean can do to a troubled soul.” He coughs apologetically before continuing. “And I know how dusty these old places can get…”
What is this? I wonder. What card has fate played me here? The very air in the cell has changed at the presence of this small and swarthy man. I study him further, though it is hard to do–there seems to be an indefiniteness about his features, as though they are continually shifting from within. His skin is mediterranean – old but vital. His brown eyes are furtive but full of humour. The small frame is slight but wiry, and, for some reason, completely at odds with the white “Clean Genie – Best Prices!” uniform he’s wearing.
I lie back, exhausted beyond comprehension. The last thing I remember before oblivion takes me is the soothing sound of his brush as it takes a layer of dust from my floor and into his pan.
When I wake up, several hours later, he has gone – long gone, I suspect. The only sign of his former presence is a can of rose-scented spray. ‘Compliments of the Genie’ is written on a small business card propped up against it… But, beneath the can, and almost invisible in the shadows, is a copy of something called Peak Past…
<See index below for other parts of this story>
———————————————————–< to be continued-
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 story, 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.
Index to Ben’s Bits:
The Silent Eye School of Consciousness – a modern mystery school.