The creature woke up; it was screaming silently, becoming aware that it existed as a presence inside its own skull. It was a bundle of bones, hanging with flesh.
Where was he? Who was he?
Ah! Yes. He was what was known as a man, on a planet known as Earth. A few hours earlier he’d lain on that bed next to a woman, a similar collection of flesh and bones. They’d been together, sharing their existence on that small blue planet for twenty-five of its years. His name was Ianto; her name was Siân.
She was lying next to him now, her flesh and bones covered with a smooth skin. He reached across under the bedclothes and stroked her thigh with his fingertips.
Ah! That was good, better, he felt better. Why had he been screaming? Was it another one of those dreams? What had it been about this time? Memories of those other worlds became so faint, so soon after waking. Seconds before, in the normal rush of time, he’d inhabited a universe subtly different to the one he’d just woken into. But it was a blur. In a distant part of his brain there was only a vague hint of that other existence, and that was fading fast.
Dreams were a mystery to him, and to every other inhabitant of the planet, as far as he knew. What was their purpose? They seemed so important, so ubiquitous, even when you couldn’t remember them, yet no one knew what they were or what their function was. Sure there were theories and endless experiments – but still no one had a clue – did they?
Ianto sighed, reached across to the bedside table to pick up his phone. Siân mumbled from under the duvet. He didn’t hear the words but he knew she was asking him what time it was – she always did.
He touched the phone’s screen. “Six-forty-seven,” he said.
“Shoot!” Siân said, ejecting herself instantly from the bed and trotting towards the door. Ianto laughed and tried to slap her bare backside as she sped past. She paused and looked back at him, her eyes glowering. Oops! But life was pretty good at the moment. He smiled as his head sank back into the pillows.
It was a corridor with doors on either side. Coming towards him was a big thick-set creature who filled the space from wall to wall and from floor to ceiling. The creature’s features were hidden in its own shadow but there was a glint of cold dead eyes.
Ianto pushed the door to his left and stumbled into a room. It was a hotel room. There was a young woman with long white hair sitting naked on the edge of the bed; she was polishing a long silver rifle. She looked up as he came in, her eyes pools of fluid metallic grey, like mercury. She lifted the gun and pointed it at Ianto.
He was waking up.
“I’m off to work then. I’ll see you later,” Siân’s voice, hovering at the edge of his consciousness.
“Sorry. Yeah.” He opened his eyes.
“And don’t get too depressed today. Something will turn up,” Siân said, leaning over and kissing him on the forehead.
Ianto reached out to touch her, but she was gone.
If it wasn’t for the nag of his bulging bladder he would have snuggled up and gone to sleep again, but he padded, naked, to the bathroom to relieve himself. He yawned and went back to the bedroom, it was only half past seven. Why so early? Then he remembered she had to prepare for that interview.
He texted her. “Good luck today xxx.”
He shrugged into his dressing gown and went downstairs to the kitchen.
Tea. It was always the first thing – tea and a smoke, while he checked his emails and Facebook and caught up with the news. There was a giant asteroid heading towards Earth apparently – everyone on Facebook was joking about it. The general consensus was that it would be a blessing if the Earth and everything on it was blown to smithereens, humankind was a filthy parasite blighting the planet and would most likely evolve to go out and infest the galaxy with its maleficent presence.
Twenty minutes later he had solidly and definitely become Ianto. Time to face the realities of the day. Siân was wrong – he wasn’t depressed and he wasn’t going to get depressed, he was thinking, planning, experiencing existence from a different perspective. Why did he have to conform to what so-called normal society expected? The Truth was, normality was a completely weird concept, totally abnormal if you like. What was so normal about wandering about a planet, a speck of space dust in an infinite universe, your awareness trapped inside a stinking bag of blood and bones, while all around you, other bags of blood and bones dressed themselves in bits of material collected from the environment and gave themselves labels and rewards for manipulating fellow bags of blood and bones to collect more materials from the environment to wear, or eat, or shelter in.
Nah – he wasn’t depressed, he wasn’t even unhappy.
So, he lay down on the sofa and clicked the television on, just to pass the time, to provide a background hum, while he thought about what he was going to do. He wasn’t stupid, he knew he had to do something – even bags of blood and bones needed looking after – feeding, exercising, that sort of thing – and he wasn’t just a bag of blood and bones was he? He also had an infinity within, an inner space just as vast as that outer space. His consciousness hovered in that sacred spot between the quantum and the universal. Nah – he wasn’t stupid.
It was a shard, a thin rocky outcrop, just wide enough to plant his feet on, and he was balancing on it. Below there was a bottomless void, above was an infinite darkness, and he was alone and falling – falling, and . . .
He was awake – It was the doorbell and the hard knocking on the front door. And he stumbled along the passage, and the chubby, chirpy little man was handing him a brown box and asking him to squiggle on a small touch screen with a plastic stick.
The parcel was addressed to Siân in their daughter Josie’s handwriting. Shoot – it was Siân’s birthday tomorrow – and midsummer, always a special day.
Ianto washed his face and dressed. He reckoned he could spend about twenty quid on a present for Siân, as long as it showed he’d been thoughtful it would be OK, she wouldn’t expect too much from him because of his circumstances.
The town centre was busy seeing as it was a Friday so Ianto kept his head down focusing on his destination. He wasn’t a fan of busy commercial centres. He was heading for a quiet side street to the Fairtrade shop. He bought a selection of dark chocolate and a birthday card handmade from giraffe dung by deaf African children – it was three pounds twenty-five, but Siân would like that.
He was over five quid under budget so he’d head for the big chain pub nearby, he could get two pints for a fiver there, then a nice walk home through the park and he’d knock up some pasta ready for Siân’s return from work. He wondered how her interview had gone.
Facebook was going berserk when he got back in – apparently the asteroid thing really was serious. He checked the regular news sites – they were playing it down, some reassuring ‘official’ statements about the asteroid passing by harmlessly before midday the next day, which just happened to be the Summer Solstice of course – so that was handy for the other types of sites, the religious ones and the crazy conspiracy ones, who were babbling away in a frenzy of apocalyptic fervour.
The beer, he’d stretched it to three pints, took its effect, and he crashed out on the sofa again. There was plenty of time to make the pasta – it was only three o’ clock.
The people had their backs to him but they were walking towards him – but they weren’t moving – he wasn’t moving.
The floor was moving, it was dissolving under his feet and he was shrinking, becoming sub-atomic, falling in between the molecules, swimming in light, gulping the light – balls of energy rushing towards him, sweeping through him. He was dead . . . dead . . .
The front door slammed. Siân was standing over him.
“Ianto, you moron. Have you been drinking again?”
Ianto was a little boy being chastised, full of guilt, nervous, defensive. He fell off the sofa.
Then. No! Why should he feel like that? The world was going to end in less than twenty-four hours and she was just a bag of blood and bones like he was and she had no right to talk to him like that – no right.
“Bitch,” he said. “You’ve got no right to talk to me like that – no right.”
She looked shocked, startled at his outburst. Then a calm look came over her face.
She nodded. “Right, all right, you’re right. I don’t have the right, but I do have the right to tell you that that’s it – it’s finished, we’re finished.”
Now Ianto was shocked – puzzled. He stood up.
“I was going to make pasta,” he said. “How did the interview go? Did you hear about the asteroid?”
She nodded. “I’m going out,” she said. “I’m eating out. People from work. You can sleep in the other bedroom.”
He sat down on the sofa and watched silently as she shed her overcoat and her work shoes.
“I’m going to have a bath,” she said. “Do you need to use the bathroom first?”
He shook his head but urinated into the privet in the garden after she went upstairs. The sun illuminated the lawn and most of the vegetable patch – there were still a few hours of daylight left – midsummer – a magical midsummer’s evening. Maybe the last one if that asteroid really was on its way.
He shook himself. Nah, he was getting silly – paranoid. Those websites were nonsense, there was always someone predicting the end of the world. He sat on the sun lounger and lay back, closing his eyes against the still strong light.
And there was a wide green field, with huge red daisies, and blue buttercups the size of dustbins. He realised he was dreaming, but the dream didn’t end, and the colours pulsed menacingly, and he wasn’t sure if he liked it – he was scared – it wasn’t real, he knew it wasn’t real, but it unsettled him and he wanted his own reality back, he wanted that solid certainty of who he was, what his life was all about, so he squeezed his eyes shut and commanded himself to wake up – wake up.
And he opened his eyes and he was awake – or was he? The bed was too big – huge, the size of a bus. He was still dreaming – it wasn’t right. He squeezed his eyes again, and again, and each time he opened them there was a different reality – multiple realities and he realised it was up to him, he could choose his reality.
And then it was morning again and he was touching her thigh and she was asking the time and it was only six o’clock. He smiled and got up, kissing her on the forehead.
“I’ll go and put the kettle on,” he said. “I’ll make the porridge too. You’ve got a tough day today – and it’s your birthday tomorrow.”
And Siân looked up at him from under the quilt with her beautiful smiley eyes.
“I love you,” she said.