If you were expecting more progress on my Action Man inspired figures, I’m afraid you will be disappointed.
Whilst I have been indulging my creative side, it has been in the arena of the written word, rather than converting and painting teeny-tiny men.
To prove that I’ve not been abducted by aliens, brought low by COVID or been sojourning on Barsoom (take note, Keith), I thought I’d share the first chapter of my ‘magnificent octopus’, which is my first sustained attempt at writing more than just a short story.
And because it IS my birthday today, I can pretty much do what I want…
So, without further ado, for your delectation and critique, here is the first chapter of The Last Knight.
Down the Rabbit-Hole
It always starts the same…
Shadowy figures in suits, their faces obscured, burst into the room, hands filled with guns and a glint of sliver on their lapels. I try to focus on the pin they wear, knowing instinctively that it is important, but everything is blurred, like looking through a Vaseline-smeared lens.
The woman opposite me reacts, throwing out her left hand and somehow pinning the figures in place. She speaks in tones of urgency – I can’t make out the words but get the feeling that it is imperative that I leave, for I have something that must be done.
She thrusts her right hand towards me, and, with a jolt, I am suddenly falling backwards, away from the light…
I awoke with a start, banging my head on the coach window. Someone sniggered nearby, the sound somewhat jarring in my disorientated state.
It always takes you mind a few seconds to reboot when you wake, as information is gathered from your environment and your memories to fill in the nebulous period when you were wandering in the Lands of Nod.
Certain information is usually a given, unless you’ve been drugged or are suffering from concussion, so you should at least know who you are. Where you are being a slightly more complex matter, as whilst you should be in the same place you fell asleep, this is not always the case. If you wake in familiar surrounding – your own bed in your own home – you will not experience that momentary panic you get when waking in a hotel room on the first day of your holiday.
I had woken on a coach, which appeared to be travelling down a country road, as I could see cattle in the fields across from me, between the trees.
As my mind processed this, alarm bells stared going off in my head, as various questions jostled for attention; Why did I think there was something fundamentally wrong with those cows? Why was I viewing what was obviously an Autumnal scene, in shades of red and gold, when it was surely May? And, most importantly, how the fuck had I ended up on what seemed to be, from glancing at the uniformed teens around me, a school bus?
Furthermore, my body felt…swollen, as though all my insides had been scooped out and then stuffed back into a slightly smaller frame. I looked at my hands, noting that they were slimmer and smoother than I recalled, no rings or liver spots and, from the cuffs of the jumper sheathing my arms, I appeared to be wearing the same uniform as those about me.
I turned to the girl sitting across the aisle from me and spoke; “Excuse me, you wouldn’t happen to have a compact with a mirror, would you?”
My voice was higher pitched than I remembered and the fear that had been lurking at the back of my mind raged forward.
The girl frowned, reached into her bag, and pulled out a compact, wordlessly handing it to me. With trembling hands, I opened it, dreading what I was about to see.
There, staring back at me, was MY face – but a face I hadn’t seen in a mirror for a good 35 years… the face of my 16-year-old self.
What. The. Fuck…
Sherlock Holmes is often quoted as stating that “when you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” So, by applying deductive reasoning to the scant evidence that had been presented so far, what possible explanations could there be for my current situation?
Option 1 – Like the plot of a cheesy family movie, I had been physically regressed to my previous age, but remained in the same chronological year – no doubt to teach me some kind of valuable moral lesson that had so far escaped me in the 50-odd years I had been on the planet.
However, I currently had no way of discerning the date and no memory of making a wish via battered brass lamp, automated fortune-telling booth or ancient Buddhist skull, so whilst the evidence partially supported this, there was no way of telling for sure.
Option 2 – My mind had been thrust back in time to occupy my own teenage body (rather than someone else’s – à la Quantum Leap) to rectify a mistake made in the past. As with option 1, I had yet to find out when I was, so this was another unproven possibility.
Option 3 – I was currently inside a highly advanced virtual reality simulator, the creators of which had decided I was better suited to experience their creation as a teenage boy, rather than a grey-haired Saganaut. If the technology was advanced enough and I was connected to it physically or by way of a direct neural interface, there would be no way of telling whether this was real or not – at least until Laurence Fishburne showed up to offer me drugs.
Now, the main problem with all three options was they required certain things – a supernatural artefact in respect of option 1, mental time travel in respect of option 2 and highly advanced &/or alien technology in respect of option 3 – all things that exist within the annals of Science Fiction (emphasis on the last word) rather than in the world in which I was born into.
All this led to probable Option No. 4 – that I’d been involved in some kind of serious accident, was lying in a coma in a hospital somewhere and all of this was the product of my subconscious mind.
In which case, DCI Gene Hunt would be along shortly to call me a soft, Southern, lager-drinking twat.
Of course, that didn’t happen. Instead, I got this:
I looked up from my reverie, still clutching the compact, to find a blonde, muscular lad, swaying slightly due to the motion of the coach, leaning over me.
Now, there were a number of responses I could have given to this query, from the factual ‘yes, I am Alexander Crowe’ to the challenging ‘Who wants to know?’ Due to my mouth not always checking with my brain first and the belief (whether justified or not) that I was a witty person, I chose to respond thus:
“Yes, I AM currently a Crowe, but am hoping that someday soon I will become a beautiful swan…”
The girl I’d borrowed the compact from snorted with laughter and I glanced across, grinning as I did so. She was stifling her laugher with her hand and I passed the compact back with a nod of thanks, then looked up at the boy, who was frowning. I decided to give him a break.
“Yes, “I said, “I am Alexander Crowe.”
“So…” he seemed to be having some difficulty marshalling his thoughts, so I took the opportunity to examine him more closely.
Blonde, muscular, handsome. Jumper sleeves pushed up and shirt cuffs folded back. Tie loose at his throat, top button undone. Nicely cut trousers and expensive shoes, so not off the rack. Home counties accent. Probably good at sports.
I focused on the uniform next – Navy blue V-neck jumper with silver trim on the neckline, embroidered silver tree of some description on the left breast, surrounded by the legend ‘Oakdene College’ also in silver – which probably meant it was supposed to be an Oak tree. Striped tie in the corresponding matching colours.
Oakdene College? Now, why did that sound familiar?
“…you must be the scholarship boy, them.” The boy eventually finished.
“I…guess so.” I answered. Scholarship? Interesting…
“So, that means your parents are poor then.” He said disdainfully.
And there we had it. Not asking out of genuine interest, but due to ingrained snobbery from hereditary entitlement. Probably flogged his servants too.
“Sorry,” I said, “I didn’t catch your name?”
“Bond,” the boy said, with a touch of pride, “Aubrey Bond.”
“Now, scholarships are not only granted to those in financial need, you know…” I began before my brain caught up with my ears. “Hold on, did you really just say Aubrey Bond?”
“Seriously? Aubrey Bond?” I started laughing. “I suppose it could have been worse, your surname could have been Shortcake. Or Jambe. Or Fields.” I paused for a moment in thought. “Actually, that last one wouldn’t have been too bad, especially if you’re a Beatles fan.”
I looked up at Aubrey smiling brightly. He did not look happy.
“Are you making fun of me?” He growled, clenching his fists.
I was just considering the best response to this, ideally one which not involves one of Aubrey’s fists ending up in my face, when we were fortunately interrupted.
“Oi, you at the back there!” shouted the coach driver, “Get back in your seat!”
Aubrey shot me a venomous look, muttered “This isn’t over, Crowe” and made his way back to his seat.
Whilst this encounter had provided additional information and introduced me to the school bully, I was no closer to fathoming out whatever “this” was. However, I was starting to doubt whether this was all in my head.