Here’s a little something I wrote many moons ago back when the world was young. Thought it was appropriate to post it again, given the season. I hope you like it.
We find the strangest of things in the most unlikely places.
I had been wandering around New York steadily getting more lost with each step and corner, a tourist who was now firmly toured out. I was now an ex-tourist and wanted nothing more than to be back home, or at the very least back in my hotel room with the shower running as I poured a whiskey from the overpriced minibar.
Needing help, I did what any tourist does in these circumstances. I tried to look pathetic in the hopes that some kind soul will stop and take pity on me. This being New York however, there were no kind souls in the vicinity, only the jostling faceless mob whose response to pity was to knock it off its feet and into the gutter. I dived for a doorway and safety. I had intended to hide in the confines of the archway, but the force of my retreat catapulted me through the door, and inside. The tinkle of the bell above my head told me that at least I was in a shop of some kind, and hadn’t barged uninvited into someone’s home.
I glanced around, trying to regain my composure while at the same time hoping that no one had seen my somewhat unorthodox entry. Thankfully the place appeared deserted. Dust lay everywhere, so much so that there seemed to be a waiting list for dust particles to settle. The air was filled with tiny specks of who-knows-what, a microscopic air traffic controller’s nightmare, all vying for space on any available surface. The shop did not seem to know what it sold. In this corner racked ancient jars of boiled sweets, a flash of colour through the grey shroud. A huge mahogany table was piled three high with unmatched chairs, a cross between a house move and a circus trick. Bookcases vied for attention with old prams, beer crates, car tyres and an uprooted tree stump. Everywhere I looked there was something that didn’t belong.
“Can I help you?” Came a voice from behind one of the larger bookcases. My mind kicked in at last, and shifted from neutral with a lurch. A head peered round the bookcase, followed by it’s body. Old, probably even the oldest thing in this store. I nodded, looking around frantically.
“Yes,” I said, trying not to sound overly startled. I settled for a lame explanation instead, “I’m lost. I’m a tourist – well, a journalist really, looking for…………”
“Ah, I’ve just the thing for you,” The man gave a small cough that sounded more like a suppressed giggle, “just the thing. Follow me.”
Not wanting to be hurried outside and still just as lost, I obeyed. We walked further into the shop, each turn around a bookcase, a table or a pile of boxes revealing further depths. I could not see a back wall, or an end.
He stopped in front of a small writer’s bureau, scratched and worn with age.
“Ah, I’ve already got one, sorry.” Not wanting to sound too negative, I added, “Nice craftsmanship though.”
He smiled and I noticed a distinct lack of half his teeth. “Not that old thing, This!”
He opened the bureau, and yet more dust flew into the air. I suppressed a coughing fit and looked.
Inside was a typewriter, an old Remington, I’d guess from the turn of the last century. As I stared at it, the shop seemed to grow smaller and the mute black object before me grew. I wanted it.
I’m not one given to saying a few words when many will do, but my vocal chords could utter little else. Perhaps it was the dust.
He suggested a price that seemed ridiculously low for such a piece of arcana, and I hastily paid then hefted the typewriter unto my arms. Despite it’s obvious bulk, it felt lighter than I’d expected.
“I’ll be glad to see that gone,” the shopkeeper muttered as he showed me the door. “there’s too much of its last owner inside it. Done me no good at all. None!”
The door opened before I could reply, and I found myself outside in a daze from the over bright sunlight. The street was now deserted. I walked in a haze carrying my new possession, not recalling either route nor reason to my wanderings. Somehow though, I made it back to the hotel lobby, and up to my room.
The hotel room had receded into the background, just as the shop had a mere few hours beforehand. In my eyes there existed only this typewriter, and me. My hands looked so huge; yet even they seemed tiny in comparison to the black monolithic form of my acquisition.
The typewriter beckoned me, and I came. I upended my case searching for blank paper, eager to see if this relic of another age still functioned. I found a ream of paper, fed it a single slice, then typed.
Each hit of the keys sounded like a jarring pipe-organ in my head, so long and resonant. I stopped on the fourth press, fearful that the noise would bring complaints from the other hotel residents. Time stopped as I waited, my hands poised a few inches above the round blackened keys, There came no banging on the walls, or urgent telephone calls from the reception desk, so I continued.
I’m accustomed to a computer keyboard, my fingers more used to just touching the keys than having to physically press them. Now each letter a was statement of fact, each word an effort carrying the weight of several pounds of pressure with every syllable. Yet my fingers travelled that typewriter like never before. Where I had previously been a slowish typist, more used to thinking, typing and thinking more – on this mechanical black box my hands flew, the creative process subsuming into my subconscious and talking directly with my fingers.
I fed it sheet after sheet of paper, each one regurgitated complete, error free, perfect. Only when I glanced up did I realize that hours had passed. I leaned back, my back aching from lack of movement and I stretched each finger in turn, the pain in the joins testament to their usage. It was only after I had returned from fetching a glass of water that I discovered the scale of my workload.
Beside the typewriter sat 250 sheets of completed text.
Now, I’m a journalist, accustomed to writing around five thousand words of copy a day. Day in day out, that’s no mean feat given that my day also involves investigation, research and the usual assortment of meetings and adimistrivia.
Before me sat perhaps 100,000 words of my own making, the product of 6 hours intensive typing on an unfamiliar machine.
And I couldn’t remember a word of what I’d written.
That night I dreamed of a strange hill.
I don’t usually recall any of my dreams. I remember waking up from nightmares as a child, my parents rushing into my room fearing I was being savaged by a wild beast. With the light on and their arms around me, those nightmares were soon forgotten.
I remember everything about these dreams, and what I saw would have fit perfectly into the stuff of my childhood nightmares. One eyed creatures covered in scales wandering across a featureless plain, following a silent call from a city far beyond the horizon. I saw tiny balls of light flitting across the universe, possessing the bodies of beings on planets that they passed. I saw them visit Earth.
Yet my dreams kept returning to this strange hill, gradually getting closer in my vision, the atmosphere cloudy, it’s features vast but indistinct. As I neared it, realisation dawned that this vast hill lay underwater, deep below the ocean surface. And it was alive.
These visions did not scare me though; these were dreams not nightmares, even though the subjects may be nightmarish to describe in the light of day. I was not afraid. I belonged.
That morning I went shopping for more paper. The hotel receptionist gave directions to the nearest store, and I chose to walk the few blocks. The crowd of humanity seemed to flow against me, jostling for control of the sidewalk. I was perhaps halfway to the store when I felt a hand touch my shoulder. I turned, surprised, and looked into the eyes of a man, perhaps 60 years of age. Time had not been kind to his face, but his eyes shone with peculiar intensity.
He uttered four words that only I heard in that milling crowd then merged into the sea of bodies. He said: “You have his soul.”
Stunned, I stood alone while the crowds barged past. His words had hit some truth I did not yet understand. Stranger still was an illogical certainly that grew inside me until there was no doubt in my mind at all. The man was possessed by one of the self-same star creatures I had seen in my dreams that night. I had seen it in his eyes. Why could no one else see it? Why?
I made it to the store, bought paper and returned to my hotel room in a daze. The urge was to feed that infernal black typewriter another sheet of paper and resume typing. I resisted somehow, and instead took up the previous day’s work. Though I knew the words had been typed by myself, I had no recollection of what I had written. As I read my hands began to shake, my eyes and mouth wide in horror, for the words on the page described my dreams of last night in complete and graphic detail. It was all there – the featureless plain, the star creatures, and the hill. Ever the hill. Yet there was more, for what I had seen in my dreams as an impartial observer was written here from the perspective of one intimately familiar with these beings.
My hands had typed the words, but they were not mine. The writing was in a style of an earlier age, simpler, but no less vivid in description. I didn’t know how, or why – but the evidence lay before me in clear black print. Putting down the manuscript, I paced the room for some time, my eyes continually drawn to the typewriter.
Finally, with supreme effort, I packed my clothes, checked out of the hotel room and fled, leaving the typewriter and manuscript on the table for the hotel to find and destroy.
Some weeks have passed since I returned home, and I type this now on my computer in the comfort of my own study. Before me lays a package from the hotel and a small note stating that they have forwarded some belongings I had left in error. The box is just the right size to hold an old black Remington typewriter and a manuscript.
The dreams have come again.