17:07, 8 Dec 2016
Hey Tauren, thanks for your interest in the next chapter! I must admit, the novel has been on hold while I've been mulling how best to roll it out. The problem is, it's going to be hard to get each chapter to be a standalone story in itself and I'm just not sure if a serial is best suited to this site or a writer's group site like Critique Circle, which has lots of writers submitting chapters from novels and a younger audience that might be more receptive to it. Meantime, I'm also working on the film: http://jamesdeberesford.wixsite.com/come-with-us
01:05, 17 Oct 2016
Tauren, thank you for your note, chapter 1 is pasted below. More coming.
00:59, 17 Oct 2016
The man who had all the time in the world
Chapter 1- (Chapter 2 is coming soon as a HoW entry)
He unlocked the door to room 11 with some trepidation and was surprised to find it nicer than he imagined, when taking the stairwell and corridor into consideration. He entered a small hall side on so that a bedroom was the hall’s width in front and the lounge six feet to the right.
In the bedroom he could see a room just shy of 11x8 feet, cosily lit with a standard lamp and furnished with a brass bed, book shelves and old style television on top of wooden drawers.
Through the lounge doorway he could see a lamp lit on a pedal stall desk by the window. It was like he’d walked right in on someone’s life.
He approached the doorway to the right. He could now see that the lounge had a galley kitchen at the left end and a bathroom entrance at the right hand corner. There was plenty of room to swing a cat but overall it was a compact set up perfect for a bachelor. He peeped through the makeshift curtain of the kitchen sash window, made from a bed sheet, down on to the urban road four stories below, glistening in the rain and artificial light.
Out in the big wide world, there were always stones that lay unturned. Voyages that might end in shipwreck and captivity. Journeys that took one to the edge of endurance. There were friendships to be made and broken, precipices and passes unclimbed and untrodden. Drinks to be downed in God forsaken bars in sub-arctic cities. He could have known the intrigues of the harem and the wisdom of Amazonian plants. “I could have been a gun runner in Afghanistan,” he joked. With himself. But he knew, if one really can, that he was in a prison cell. Confined by a locked door, or poverty, or the condition of the mind. No matter, the fact of his incarceration was more important than the agent. Then the phone rang. He approached it with the cautious curiosity of a cat but didn’t answer. The answerphone kicked in.
‘YOU’VE REACHED THE VOICEMAIL OF JACK. PLEASE LEAVE A MESSAGE OF ANY LENGTH AFTER THE BEEP. I’VE GOT ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD.’
Then his eye was caught by the laptop on the desk. He sat on the squeaky chair in front of it and tapped a key. A message faded into view.
WELCOME TO THE AFTERLIFE HOTEL. WE HOPE YOU LIKE YOUR ROOM. WE’VE FIXED IT UP JUST LIKE A PLACE YOU HAD IN ONE OF YOUR OTHER PROBABLE REALITIES. DUE TO CUTBACKS THERE WILL BE NO LIFE REVIEW. PLEASE COMPOSE A SUMMARY OF YOUR LIFE ON EARTH, AT YOUR LEISURE. WE’LL HAVE IT PRINTED OUT AND LAMINATED FOR YOU.
BEST WISHES, THE BACKSTAGE CREW.
“Forever to think on my sins? Piece of cake, I’m a writer AND a Catholic,” Jack murmured. Then he looked up at the room again, as if seeing it anew. He put a Carpenters record on for a snatch, just to see if this was really happening. If the Carpenters sounded the same this was real. He looked disconsolately at the meagre contents of the fridge and took a sip from a bottle of value sugarless cola and spat the contents in the sink. Then he took another look at it and tasted.
“Hmm,” he said approvingly, having rapidly re-evaluated. “To Horace Holden,” he said. And took a swig. Horace Holden was one of Jack’s ‘go to’ people to propose an ironical toast to. He had to admit, the seamanship of Captains Bligh and Cook were second to none and for sheer stubbornness Shackleton deserved a handshake, but for services to sheer bad luck the American seafarer Horace got the cigar. For those who don’t know, Horace was not an out and out explorer but one by happenstance, who had an awfully rough time in Polynesia in 1832. Several times in Jack’s own life there seemed to be echoes of lessons in Horace’s odyssey, including his lack of success as an author.
‘And here’s to explorers everywhere- palace eunuchs, admirals and bearded hikers all,’ Jack thought, finishing the bottle. He considered himself one of their fraternity, having lived many years abroad. Having never long been settled in one place. ‘But as I am now detained here for the foreseeable, paradoxically I have the true freedom of this apartment, a wealth of unexplored choices. So I shall strike out to see things as I have never seen them. For the place I apparently spend so much time in is full of secrets, even to me, ‘ he added.
As he had all the time he needed he was in no hurry, though. He made use of the facilities.
‘I once read that when you die at first the place you go to looks like Earth and you might even have a physical body as well. Complete with your normal bodily functions,’ he observed internally, and flushed.
In the draw of the desk he found a dictaphone. He took that and some buttermints, then spoke aloud into the old-fashioned machine:
“I don’t know who I’m talking to, but whoever I’m talking to: you’ve got to see this place. It’s my flat. My mess. I recognise it but I don’t,” he said with a chill and then his eyes darted from side to side. “I’m scoping this place out.”
He began in the hall, dictaphone poised. “Like all great halls this is almost a room. Besides coat hooks it houses two dining chairs, a Casio keyboard and a book shelf complete with fascinating books no one reads cover to cover. The Japanese home keyboard is completely wasted on man with his temporal concerns, her average lifespan of a few score years. Its rhythm patterns and tones can normally only ever be fully exploited by some theoretical children who always brush their teeth before bed and ask nicely to leave the table. Worse, in this age of Facebook updates and smartphone notifications, what hope is there for its myriad capabilities? Sure, I’ve messed around with things like this but where was the enjoyment in that? Always having that awful feeling I had no time for it? Well that’s all going to change.”
The phone rang again. Jack let it go.
“Leave a message this time. Why don’t you?” Jack said. No message was. Jack looked more carefully at the books and resumed recording.
“But it’s not just any hall. It’s mine and these are exactly the kind of books I would fill a shelf with. Judging by how random some of them are, I don’t doubt for a minute several came from charity stores. What with such titles as, THE DORLING KINDERSLEY ULTIMATE CHRISTMAS BOOK and POPULAR HOUSE PLANTS.“
“The bedroom is perfect for snug winter nights watching old VHS tapes. And no doubt, like many bedrooms there’s more to it than meets the eye. With any luck, my alter ego might have a sex toy or two stashed away somewhere.”
He opened the drawers. Jack stopped and put the Dictaphone down. He could see the letters of a familiar magazine peeping out from under some clothes.
“My God,” Jack said. “It can’t be,” as if he had found the cup of the Holy Grail. In fact, it was his first glamour magazine. A January 1990 issue that had apparently gone to press before the fall of Communism in Romania, so it was really late ’89. “How did this get here?” he asked. In another life he must have tracked it down and bought it off Ebay but in the one familiar to him he had clean forgotten it. He sank on to the side of the bed and slowly turned the pages. He couldn’t explain why but these girls were not exactly how he remembered them. His favourite model, ‘The girl next door’ didn’t seem to fill the page as she had in his memory. He was glad the photographs accorded her an amount of respect that now looked quaint but the shots still looked awkward. Most peculiarly, the room she was in had a bed and drawers closely resembling his.
“Okay. Lounge. I have all the time in the world to look at the map. And when you really look at a map- for hours and hours and hours the reach of the white man cannot be in doubt,” Jack mused half-heartedly onto tape. “Oh, screw this. I’m going to do some writing.”
He must have had writer’s block because it took a while. He managed to find a typewriter but wasn’t sure about paper. One drawer was stuffed full of it but he couldn’t type on it because it was already full of students’ unmarked homework. No, that was just a bad dream. He was starting to have them. There WAS unmarked homework, a lot of it, from when he was a teacher abroad; but that was not part of this alternative time line. He had been counting the days he had been there. Two weeks just to find some paper. He could see how when you had time you just filled it up.
“Maybe I don’t want to write my life story. I might get sick of hearing my excuse-itus every day.”
The phone rang. And rang. Jack didn’t answer. Why should he, if they weren’t prepared to leave a message? He wasn’t going to break the habit of a lifetime. Instead, he wrote his life report in three days, a self-imposed limit. Apart from the last chapter, that is.
‘The Muslim traveller Ibn Battuta remarked that, “Travelling leaves you speechless then turns you into a storyteller.” It can also cause verbal diarrhoea that alchemizes into the wise nectar of stony silence,’ Jack typed. ‘So let me be brief. Not much of interest happened on my last assignment. As you know, I was pretty well travelled by then. I’d been to North Korea to poke fun, I’d been arrested in Dar Al Salem and played the British passport card, I was stung by a jellyfish in Australia and cried like a baby. I’d also done six months in Kalamay, which is one of the most remote cities in China. So it was kind of annoying that they wanted me to come for an interview in Hohhot when a Skype call will normally suffice. But they insisted. Paid for my flight from Xi’an.”
Jack sighed and took his glasses off. He looked around the flat. It always looked the same and yet different. Bottles moved. A new microwave oven appeared in place of an old one. New food appeared in the fridge. Cleaning products were topped up. It was like it was playing on some loop.
He fell asleep again, this time, at his desk. He dreamt of the job interview at the last campus he worked on. Its pencil thin Scholar trees swaying in the breeze. Then awoke to a noise downstairs. A man was screaming. Hours later, maybe days, he still had his ear to the floor. It was hard to say but it seemed like there were two people downstairs and one was being coerced. The one being coerced was a woman. He got up and walked to the door.
"No, it's not my concern," he said aloud. "And its not real." Then he paced around, knelt down and put his ear to the floor again. He banged his fist.
"You shut up down there! Leave her alone."
His eyes filled with helplessness. But downstairs they were laughing now.
The phone rang. Jack picked up.
“Afterlife? What kind of afterlife is this? he asked.
“The afterlife is what you make it, Mr Soirant,” came the reply. And the line went dead.