A ringing phone woke me from a frantic dream, its detail evaporating as I left the fug of the half asleep. I remembered running but not much else. The drone of the bell continued, shrill and incessant, forcing the sleep away from me. Not even the sweet embrace of my pillow would deaden it. Time slowed as my brain fought through the treacle of sleep and put the facts together, this was a cheap room in yet another dump of a hotel. There had been no phone in the room when I went to sleep, or for the previous two weeks of my stay here with the roaches and the bums.
Dear Readers, I can hear you clamouring for more already. I am so sorry for the delay in recording my adventures. I have been somewhat indisposed since my last installment, hiding out and waiting for those who plan to do me harm to beggar off and bother someone else (if you are new to my adventure then you need to go off and read the other episodes as they really are rather good).
Unfortunately they didn’t beggar off quite as quickly as I hoped. My once unfounded paranoia has come home to roost and I have become a hunted animal. Fortunately, The Bubble is a crowded place and along with the crowds come hiding places. I found some initial respite in some of the more obscure groups. I managed nearly a week in ’The Art of Children’ behind a Crayola nightmare before shimmying off to hide out inside two of the England groups. Turns out there are Mirror groups. With the mirrors all I needed was a bit of smoke and it turned out that Robert was indeed a close relative of my own father and I managed to elude capture yet again. Most recently however I have been hiding out in the Critique Forum and working as a short order cook in one of the dead end chat bars that litter the forum corner of Red Bubble. I had reached the bottom of the barrel, disappeared off the radar and sunk below the dregs, anything so that I could have a quiet life once again without the ‘Old Man, Bubblettes or Blackfriars bothering me.
The phone’s ringing bell continues to pierce the night. I know it’s the ‘Old Man’. Who else could it be? After all, the phone had not been there before and games like that are his. Time to move on and to lose myself once again in the sprawl that Red Bubble is rapidly becoming. If he has found me, then I know the others will not be far behind. Now, I could answer the phone, and continue with his mad quest but to be totally honest I have had my fill with people trying to kill me! Anonymity beckons and so I have retired from the questing game. I wish he’d accept my refusal to play and let me stay lost. Unfortunately he has an uncanny ability of finding me wherever I hide.
Throwing back the threadbare blanket and swinging my feet onto the cold floorboards I hunt frantically for the light switch. A quick snap and dim light blossoms hurting my eyes for a second, until they become accustomed to it. From the mirror stares a half dressed stranger, his gaunt face pinched and lined with a scabby growth of beard. His eyes look tired and bloodshot with heavy black bags below . It’s me. Only just, but it’s me. The days of living on the edge rest heavy on my shoulders.
The sound of the phone fades into the distance as I vacate the flop house room, the shreds of another half life are scattered there for others to wonder over. The night is surprisingly empty in this part of the Bubble, a few lights remain on in the forum blocks but few eyes will be looking out towards these shadowy paths, instead they will be caught up in important discussion about the not very important. Still they won’t interest themselves in a crumpled and travel worn bum shuffling by and that is one less worry for me.
This part of the Bubble was once a highlight of the community, it can be seen in the staggering architecture, huge towers above with both art-deco , gothic , classic and post modernist touches. It once could have been a passable duplicate of Metropolis . However, today the grandeur is tarnished, the veneer has rubbed away and the forum zone rambles off in all directions slowly filling with the detritus of a thousand conversations gathering like a third world shantytown around the vast towers of the Bubble Forum. The link back to the more art conscious parts of Red Bubble is the Metro-Bubble tram service, automated vehicles shuttling between the groups, galleries, front page and all the other places in between. This, too, has seen better days, the cars once moving pieces of artwork are vandalised. Their artwork obscured under a mass of image scraps. Reaching the small metro station I find to my relief that the platform is deserted . The minimal fluorescent lighting strains to hold back the shadows from the main concourse. I know of a dozen artists that would do this decaying scene justice , but tonight I am glad they are all elsewhere. To the rear of the platform stands a row of Bubblemail terminals, their screens filled with white noise . Where the keyboards would usually stand are frozen pools of plastic. Clearly someone had been upset with the quantity of groupmail received in their account.
Stillness filled the air, perhaps an angel passed by. The fingers of the station clock the only movement in the night. The only noise the hum and buzz of fluorescent tubes. It seemed to be getting louder. A sudden POP and the tubes above my head failed, plunging me into darkness. Minutes pass. Where the hell is that tram? Being out here was sparking my paranoia, I wanted to be away. Then the rails began to sing. A tram was on its way, just not visible yet. Green light flooded the pool of shadow, the closest Bubblemail terminal had sprung to life, a quick glance to check the platform, nobody there, huh and my eye caught the terminal screen, the message…
“Good Morning Andrew, you have one new Bubblemail. Would you like you read this Bubblemail NOW?”
Below this message was a smiley face with YES blinking below it. I shivered ‘how about NO!’ I thought to myself and walked down the platform away from the live terminal. As I walked away it’s screen dimmed but in turn each Bubblemail terminal showed the same message as I passed! Where the hell was that tram? As if answering my question it crawled into view rattling along the single track on its eternal journey around Red Bubble.
The chrome drone pulled up, its two doors struggled to slide open and allow me to embark. With an asthmatic wheeze the doors slid shut, lights flickered off then back on, then brighter still before failing once again and the tramcar pulled away. To the front of the carriage a little display scrolled passenger information, “Time now 0217, car number 585, next station Front-Page and time to next station 37 minutes”. As I read, the smell hit me, pine disinfectant and something underlying, ah yes, eau de toilet! They really should have put a toilet on these metrocars. I sat on one of the side benches. Once upon a time being the only person on the tram would not have bothered me. I would have relished the opportunity to spread out and peruse the various graffiti, but since becoming a fugitive and finding solace at the back of a crowd, the isolation was unnatural. But I don’t know how it happened, perhaps it was the rocking motion, I began to doze as the tram gained speed .
I closed my eyes for a second and then realised the folly in that. The adrenaline kicked in, my eyes must stay open. The little display caught my eye again, “Time 0217”, there was a squeal of brakes and the tram car slew, “…ime o.. nex.. stain NOW!”
Time slowed and my senses sharpened exponentially. Ahead of me the metal of the tramcar was twisting, ripping and distorting like a tin can. The seats popping their rivets in a mad rush to join the carnage, I felt weightless. I took to the air and rushed towards the mangled metal. I closed my eyes. I couldn’t help it. I was waiting for the impact. The last thing I saw were the digits “0217” burning brightly in the centre of the twisted wreck I was just about to join.
The expected bone crunching impact didn’t occur. The sound of the train wreck happening around me vanished, leaving absolute silence! Opening my eyes cautiously, I had to blink and rub just to make sure they were working… Where the hell was I now? Oh for some light! It wasn’t dark. That would mean that some light was present to realise there wasn’t much light to see by. This was rather the absence of any light whatsoever. This place was pitch black. It was hot too, oppressively so. Like an oven but without the charming company of a basted chicken. Was this Hell? If it was, I was expecting a better reception!
Time passed. Not sure if it dragged or wore roller skates, as there was nothing to judge it by. A bit of an explore had revealed… well, more absolute darkness to tell the truth, and not a lot else. No walls to walk into, no shin-height trip hazards to upend me. Of all the places that my adventure had taken me, this was by far the strangest.
The ground lurched and upended me. I got back to my feet slowly as the ground continued to pitch. What on earth was going on? Then a sound, a muffled “mmmwwwmmm mmwwwwmm mmmwwmmm”. I stood still, unsure of what to expect next… “CHA-CHINK” The blackness had vanished for the briefest of moments and brilliant light had filled this space from behind me. In front of me on a giant wall was the outline of an enormous upside down image rapidly fading away into the darkness. In the silent darkness I realised where I really was!