He glanced up, bleary eyed he could barely register the time but he knew it was late because the television had already started miming at him. The late night orchestra of noises would scarcely let him get back to sleep: the metronomic tick of his laptop, the heavy gust that rattles his shoddily insulated windows, the gentle hum of a lemon and the murmured whoosh of petrol bombs exploding in the distance. Not to mention the insubordinate gurgle of his stomach; it was no surprise, he hadn’t eaten anything except a sandwich and that could only be loosely classified as food. Maybe something to eat would be a good idea, he thought, just a case of remembering how to stand up and then convincing the room to stop spinning. In the corner of his eye suddenly James saw something, a bit of grit maybe, a single solitary tear? No, it must be an eyelash. Standing in front of the mirror, skin sagging wildly with the various brand name logos indented into his face from his awkward slumber; he noticed, in this constant and horrible reminder of his actual appearance, something flickering in the background.
On his otherwise bland and static display was a ragged childishly drawn oval, whose crayon outline was fluctuating randomly and slowly growing in size. It had to be a fair distance away because James could still see the awful 8-bit what-goes-for- trees-around-these-parts in front of the absolutely huge object; from the size, shape and movement it could either be an erratic electromagnetic distortion or an unreliably giant egg who was clearly heralding the presence of even larger apocalyptic poultry of some kind. If his schoolboy knowledge of transit aircraft told him anything it was that they rarely carried equipment that created massive electromagnetic fields, plus the object’s movement was too fast and sporadic to be any aeroplane he knew of. Somewhere deep down inside himself (no not there, down a bit, left a tad, back, back, no up, jump, argh, get off my foot, there) James Barnstall knew he had to find out what this thing was. All the terrible events that had befallen him in his lifetime: being dropped from the cricket team because someone put a red sock in with his whites, the multitude of times people told him that they didn’t even know you could start a barn, the time he was chased four miles by a bee, the many occasions he was rejected by women; all these innocuous events seemed to be leading to something (other than his inevitable mental breakdown and subsequent therapy). These events all seemed to be in place to make sure this one moment occurred, so that James could find out the position of this object, so he could find out what it was and so that he could have a cup of tea and feel rather pleased with himself.
Of course at that exact moment in time, across that great streak of water known as the channel, a crowd of literally several had formed around a monolith site in central Paris. Around the newly built and destroyed wing of the Luvre, the group circled the colossal black mass knowing in their hearts that all the events of their respective lives had also truly built up to this precise moment. Obviously what they actually felt deep down inside themselves was the same kind of grandiosely deluded, fanciful join-the-dots existence that every religion, astrologer, spiritualist, and accountant feels to stop them going mad from the sheer eye popping uncertainty of it all. However one of the gathering was a slender young woman who went by Julia Dixon Smith-Pending, given that it was her name, she too felt that her entire life had lead up to her actions now. (As a matter of interest, while multiple and double barrelled names were not wholly uncommon, the name Smith-Pending certainly is. The whole matter relates to an inappropriately placed stamp mark made on a birth certificate some generations ago, back in the times when babies applied for citizenship and the world was generally a much more officious place. Anyway back to the plot, or what little of it there is.) All those events, experiences and emotions of her past, the vast woven tapestry of serendipity and predestination, had lead up to the moment when she would, under the shadow of the dark towering giant, let off a firework and then possibly go ahhh – depending on how the mood took her. Whether this small unquestioning act would be monumentally important, or would be the most water saturated of damp squibs, would never become apparent to Julia as she would perish shortly afterwards, following a complication with a duck sting. Poor girl, dead at just twenty to. 4:40, just a few hours after letting off the firework; the doctors could do nothing, to be honest they were having difficulty understanding what the duck was. But for now Miss Dixon Smith-Pending would go about unaware of her fate as she lit her Parisian cornershop bought cigarettes-far-too-near-the-fireworks-counter rocket and admired it as it hurled itself into the night sky, it punctured into a mass of sparks and light, dust and smoke – not dissimilar to what a robot would look like if they gave birth, or existed.
Back in James’ flat the radio crooned into life. Life, it seems, had dealt James Barnstall a good hand; it was muscular, tanned, had superb dexterity and could play a few decent piano chords. The commercial flight the radio of his had been tuned into, the wings on which the hopes and dreams of men or man were resting, registered its position as just passing the German border into France. The aircrew naturally used a far more specific and cryptic position but luckily for James, who was not intimately acquainted with air traffic control coordinate protocol, they also gave their own tourist footnotes of their position much to his relief. Or at least it would have been if the article of his interest hadn’t shot off his screen, only to return considerably larger and with far more worry.
The very fact that this entity was in the centre of his display and growing in size, the implication that it was not only between him and the aircraft but that it was heading in exactly his direction, had so far failed to register with James. And it vowed to stay unchronicled as the item’s sudden and angular descent jolted James’ thoughts so brashly he’d be lucky to remember how to use a floor properly. The anomaly began losing height fast and growing almost exponentially, almost mimicking James’ father in his later years, each lateral shudder of the thing was knocking it further and further away from an and-I-just-walked-away-from-it landing. It started levelling out and was coming in for what looked like an incredibly ropey crash landing but half way through it looked like the unknown lost its nerve and had a go at pole vaulting instead, shooting up into the air before ploughing into the ground with the grace of. It had stopped, it was lodged three-quarter buried somewhere in the English countryside. Whether he could see it or not was irrelevant, all hope of determining its location was lost in the bleak meaningless country. But there, amongst the familiar and all together insignificant blobs and swabs of polygons, was a sight that James recognised. A building so large, so unwieldy and for which the job of distorting radio waves it does an incredibly thorough job. Even in his bleary half realised representation, James could recognise the Lord Chambley Village spire he so fondly remember trying to destroy.
Somewhere deep inside James’ brain something clicked, not literally for that would be disgusting, sectors long thought lost whirred into action with flagrant disregard for purpose, logic or reason. Within James’ mind something unparalleled was happening, he was beginning to ignore logic and for the first time experience heroism and the thirst for adventure. Maybe it was chemical, maybe it was the excitement of the situation, maybe it was psychosomatic or maybe it was just indigestion, but it was with all his might, pride and Received Pronunciation that he exclaimed out loud for all the world to hear.
“Ah, christ, argh!”
All this heroism lark was playing havoc with his back.