The Second Move
She lived at number six, though of course the need for numbers was now superfluous. He opened the bothersome small white gate, knocked, and waited. There was no need now, of course, for either of these actions and he wondered lazily how he had known to come there.
But then he decided he didn’t care.
The door opened, too smoothly for his liking. He would have preferred it if the door and also the gate had creaked when they opened. He yawned and looked around, but there was no-one behind him, although the sense of presence behind him was overwhelming. There was only a background landscape in soft focus: harmless sagging trees, chalky field, undulating contours, nothing to cause offence or excitement. The whole scene was a pastoral collage designed by committee (if you like that kind of thing, he thought).
Leaves on the trees wagged, as if doubtful of his presence. But though they moved constantly (and in a somehow bidden fashion) they too were silent. He was still scrutinising this unsettling backdrop when a person appeared in the threshold.
‘You are home,’ the figure announced blandly.
He had to drag his eyes away from the sight of the tree.
‘I thought you were supposed to be a woman,’ he said, confused.
‘Does it matter now?’
They went inside. It was comfortable and featureless, and he was dismayed that he couldn’t honestly call it unwelcoming. There were other people, he sensed in adjacent rooms, upstairs, anxious to meet him.
‘Can I have anything to eat?’ he asked. Not that he was hungry; but he wanted to buy time and gauge reactions.
‘If you like, but there’s really no need here.’
He shrugged, not wishing to go to the effort of inventing an imaginary list of preferred sustenance.
‘What happens now?’ he asked. There was a deliberate challenge in his voice which he hoped would disturb the other person’s serenity. But the man remained as bland as ever. Composed? he wondered. Or perhaps it should be decomposed?
‘That’s very much up to you,’ the man replied.
Then they stared at each other for an over long time. Or it would have been a long time if there had been such a thing as time here.
There seemed to be movement upstairs which phased the man more than his unrelenting stare. The noise intensified into the sound of someone hurriedly coming downstairs, covering what he said next, though it didn’t matter in the least.
‘Where’s the bus?’ he said stupidly. ‘What time do the shops open? Can you phone me a taxi?’
With the advent of the newcomer thundering down the stairs and passageway outside, he found himself laughing manically at the sound of chaos which accompanied that descent, from unseen figures following in the wake. The sound from himself overcame what they were saying, but he knew they were in panic at what was happening.
Then the woman came in and stared at him wildly, before turning her attention to the man who had greeted him. The man’s face looked like it would curdle into actual decay at his disgust for her. She in turn looked as if she was going to erupt into tears. ‘I’m terribly unwell,’ she managed to say plaintively, just before she was bustled away by a hooded collective of shadows, who dragged her upstairs again.
His host turned the bile he was going to lavish on the woman towards the newcomer.
‘We don’t like your type,’ he spat spitefully. ‘What right have you got coming here and causing all this mayhem. It was all perfectly fine before you came.’
The man shrugged.
‘I didn’t have any choice in it.’
The other’s features crumbled some more, losing identity.
‘You should have been sent to the other place. What are you doing here?’
He laughed and couldn’t stop for a long time, because he suddenly realised the purpose of his presence. The door swung upon by itself and they went outside. The perfectly pastel sky was suddenly gashed, rent sideways to show darkness, then something worse than darkness as the fissure widened.
‘Look what you’ve done!’ his host screamed. ‘It’s you that’s brought this on. Go away before it’s too late!’
But he couldn’t stop laughing long enough, for a long time, to answer, and then it was only to say weakly, ‘I’d complain if I were you.’
By now the crowd that sickeningly issued from the caesarean wound in the sky were nearly upon them, the literal army of darkness.
‘You, you, they’ve only come for you, to take you away only,’ his host protested.
But now it was too late to discuss the niceties in the apocalypse.
Not just for me, he thought dreamily as he was trampled and torn. For all of us, for all of you, all the living who have passed, who never had it so good, who trusted blindly, who invested in the stupid afterlife hope like sheep. It was always going to happen... the second move.