Of the story openers I posted last week, the two that were earmarked by others for thrashing out were the story that asks 'How long have I been here?' and the one that introduces Ewan Brook to an old lady in an apartment somewhere in Prague. Ironically both have their roots in the same place - Prague. I visited the city a couple of times whilst going out with a girl from the Czech Republic, and dug up bits and pieces about the city's history, and one of its more famous sons, Kafka, came up onto my radar. Which implies I was unfamiliar with Kafka. Not true, but I was certainly less familiar with him than I am now.
The following story, of which there is little more written except to rewrite the first few paragraphs, owes much to the monolithic and generic settings of Kafka's stories. Previously I've had it mentioned that the main character has no real personality (although that was pretty much how I wanted the character portrayed, lost on the ebb and flow of his/her own thoughts) but that the other character we hear from promises so much more. I've yet to really explore that, but for your pleasure, here is the intro to the unfinished story in full. At least the first version of it.
The second story intro, which will be posted just after this one, is the first part of a long story that I set in Prague due to the inspiration I got from visiting different parts of it, and seeing things that just inspired me to write about them.
'Citizen K' (for want of a better title)
How long have I been here?
I sit in darkness, the giant screen in front, bright in my face, hissing at me, noise illuminating every inch of glass, dancing around like bees in a monochrome hive. I'm staring at it, have been for countless minutes. There are vague shapes dancing amongst the patterns on the screen, lit up in neon. Is that a woman's face, frozen mid-laugh? I blink, to make some sort of sense of the image, and she's gone, replaced by the chaotic dance of noise. Watching it, trying to tune into the world being projected into this room, I grasp the sudden realisation that the world I'm watching is seperated from my own by a layer of glass. Everything that has consumed my pattern of light, cast out of a screen and bathing me in it's illuminance. I get the sudden sense of being here, being somewhere, and my mind begins to query just where that somewhere is. The edges of the screen sharpen crisply, defining the white noise in a familar rectangular shape, whilst the walls around me slowly lean into view, and the weight of a chair begins to reassert it's presence around me. The light dances across the surface of my skin, and I fold my hands in my lap as I become aware of them, of my legs stretched out before me. Slowly I break my gaze away from the screen, looking to one side of me. I am not alone. Vague figures caught in thin strips of light either side of me, sitting on the same chair, watching me, smiling in the darkness. I'm comfortable, I'm warm, I'm not sure quite what's going on but I'm relaxed.
The outline of one of my nearest companion's heads molds itself into the contours of the chair beside me, and I wonder just how many people are here in this room. In the darkness I make out further shapes, a doorway, a clock, a strange silhouette shifting across erraticallty patterned walls, words and pictures dancing in and out of focus. I turn my head again, my attention drifting towards the dancing lights in front of me. I think it's the noise that becomes clearer first, the hissing static retreating enough for me to recognise the drumming of heavy rain. After that the clarity begins to spread, the screen momentarily showing me a skyscape of dancing stars before reasserting it's identity as a window, it's pane distorted by the splash of a hundred raindrops, in a constant state of movement but oh-so-solid and real. Solid glass, between the cold wet world outside and the room within. The image of the laughing neon lady has become the vague outline of an illuminated street sign outside my window, whilst within the features of my room begin to map themselves over the figures around me, the smiling faces and silhouettes.
The seat begins to feel firmer around me, no longer a shapeless warm sensation around me. In the dark the lights through the window have caught the edged of items around me, marking out hard lines and soft curves as the sweep of someone's arm, the tilt of someone's head, casting other shadows across the wall. The walls, I recall, are covered in newspaper clippping, stories about reality spilling in through the cracks, about the truth digging it's way up from beneath the streets, stories I've painstakingly collected over days, weeks, months...
How long have I been here?
"How long have you got?" a smiling voice asks from the darkness.
I turn towards the voice, seeing nothing. Rising from my chair I stumble on unsteady feet towards my desk, and switch the lamp on, wrenching it's head to shine it's glaring light across the room. Empty. Nothing. No-one. Just me.
Me. I don't really remember much anymore. That's fair enough - the City doesn't really seem to remember me anymore. The people pass by me on the streets without casting a second glance. I'll admit, I didn't think I was anything special. I was just one faceless cog in the machine. One of a thousand insects. A speck of dirt on a stomping boot. I've forgotten who I was. I've taken to call myself Citizen K, but I'll admit, I can't really remember where that name came from.
And so I was quite happy to fade into the grey backdrop of this miserable rainy city, going through the same stale routine not knowing or expecting anything new. And then I began to see the signs. Things that just didn't add up. Strange alignments of patterns on walls, odd glances from people, half heard whispers. Nothing quite real enough to pin down, but suddenly the world wasn't so black and white anymore. What was once routine no longer seemed so, as if the cog in the machine had become loose, as if reality had been knocked slightly off-track. For a while I thought it must have been me, that I must have somehow been broken. I began to collect newspaper clipping that suggested otherwise, that showed that there was something genuine trying to manifest itself into the world's greater consiousness. Here were articles about figures in modern politics, with radical new messages, or artists with daring new messages to convey. Writers with stories to tell and theories to divulge. What was the connection? What was it I couldn't quite see, behind the hand written pleas, the invitations to share these people's private lives, if only for a split second? And then I found him.
There are seven hundred and thirty three individual cuttings on these walls, enough to cover what original wall space there is of this small room, and of those fifty nine concern The Sleeper. Twelve more articles about him are spread over the surface of the desk, freshly collected from magazines and papers this week. No-one knows who The Sleeper is, only that he was involved in a terrible car crash on one of the busier routes out of this grim city. The wweather had been bad, visibility reduced, and a truck had skidded and flipped over onto it's side as it tried to change lanes, crashing into several cars as it did so. The Sleeper was the driver of one of those cars. The impact itself shattered the front windscreen, collapsing the driver's door inwards and crushing much of the chassis. The vehicle was, reports say, dragged along with the momentum of the upturned truck, sheering metal from it's frame as it did so. The man who became known as The Sleeper, though protected by the car's airbag, was concussed by the accident, his face caught by splinters of glass and jagged metal. He has never regained consiousness. Furthermore, he has never been identified. Having carried no identification and despite the attempts of police and media to track down concerned relatives, The Sleeper has remained Unknown.
It has been months now, perhaps weeks... days? However long it has been since The Sleeper was discovered, his comatose body transfered to The Hospital, the news has focussed on him. The signs all point towards a messiah, a dreamer, a shattered soul behind a shattered vissage. And whispers all concern the boy in the car, the unknown traveller, the mysterious and enigmatic Sleeper. These pages in front of me, torn out of glossy magazines and tabloid papers alike, all query the identity of The Sleeper, where he came from, where he was headed, the state of his car. Conspiracy theorists suggest that some of the cars were looted before the emergenct services arrived, based around reports of apparently disturbed wreckage, or of figures seen watching, vulture-like, from the sides of the road. One of the papers shows a badly reproduced image of The Sleepers car, the windscreen almost cleared off glass, shattered and scattered across the rain-soaked road, the flashing orange lights distorted in the water. Inside the car the dark silhouette of the drivers seat is crushed down awkwardly to one side. Although the most popular shot of The Sleeper is a full-colour shot of his face, eyes bruised and partially obscured by the oxygen mask over his nose and mouth, a number of cuts marked across the left side of his face, I can't help but look at the photo of the car-wreck. This is where it all happened, I tell myself, peering into the unpenetrable darkness of the car.
"This is where it all happened", a voice smugly echoes behind me, causing me to spin around.
Nothing. No-one. Just me.