There is a box. Inside that box is a door. Beyond that door is a house. In some rooms forests grow. In some, prisoners wait. At the top of the house, a prisoner sits behind a locked door waiting for a key to turn. The day that happens, the world will end! File under: Modern Fantasy [Worlds within Worlds | Prison Break | Exploring the Unknown | Dark Powers]
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
In a varied career, Guy trained and worked as an actor for twelve years before becoming a full-time writer. He mugged someone on Emmerdale, performed a dance routine as Hitler and spent eighteen months touring his own comedy material around clubs and theatres. He is the author of the best-selling Rules of Modern Policing: 1973 Edition, a spoof police manual "written by" DCI Gene Hunt of Life On Mars. He's has also written a two-volume series companion to that; a Torchwood novel, The House That Jack Built; and The Case Notes of Sherlock Holmes, a fictional facsimile of a scrapbook kept by Doctor John Watson. He's also the current chairman of the British Fantasy Society.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
They had threatened to break his legs if he didn’t find them the money owed. It wasn’t an inventive threat but the best never are. What’s the point of intimidation if it’s not easily imagined? You want the recipient to get their head around the concepts on offer, to feel the sensation of bones splintering inside their legs like shattered lead in a dropped pencil. With a great threat the pain starts the minute you finish talking.
For Miles Caulfield it had done its job, his every thought filled by men with lump hammers and an eagerness to use them. Perhaps that’s what had happened? He couldn’t be sure, his body felt distant, something important he owned but hadn’t seen in a while, like a childhood memento stashed in the attic.
It was dark, with a smell so familiar as to have been beneath his notice for a moment: the muskiness of old things. Was he in the shop then, rather than his flat above? Perhaps they had dragged him down here amongst the junk and cobwebs to check his till. To work their way through his shelves and display cabinets for something of worth. If so they needn’t have bothered, the sign outside promised ‘the antique and collectable’ but he would hardly be receiving leg-breakers at his door if any of it was valuable. It was a shop dedicated to the battered and broken, the discarded and worthless. He now realized that included the owner, probably always had..
So, he was surrounded by the smell of old things but there was something not quite right about it. He had spent enough hours sitting amongst his own stock (say flipping through a newspaper or novel, or completing a crossword perhaps, all the sorts of pursuits one might involve oneself in when not distracted by the intrusion of customers) and it didn’t smell like this. This was real age, the sort of dust that might contain fragments of God. He tried to move again but his body was so remote to him the simple act of twitching a limb was telekinesis. They must have done one hell of a job on him.
“They’ll kill you, you know,” Jeremy had said as they sat on the wooden bench teasing the ducks with the steaming contents of their takeaway containers. “It won’t be quick either, I’ve seen enough movies, they’ll make an example of you. Probably cut your dick off and stick it in your mouth.”
Miles, a hunk of meat and bread turning to gritty mush in his mouth, put the rest of his burger down and swallowed reluctantly. “Thanks for that, really.”
“Just saying,” Jeremy mixed a slurry of ketchup and mayonnaise with a pinch of fries and popped them in his mouth. “That’s the kind of thing these people do.”
“We’re talking about Gordon Fry not Tony Soprano.”
“Just think of me when you’re gagging on your own bell-end.”
“Fuck’s sake...” Miles dumped his food in the bin and lit a cigarette to fumigate the taste in his mouth.
Jeremy gave him a dirty look and wafted the smoke away from his face. “I’m eating here, do you mind?”
Miles felt a tickle in his nostrils, and, in the absence of any other physical sensation, fixated on it. The feeling spread, like leaking oil, from his sinuses to his face. His cheek began to prickle against the wool of a carpet. That settled it, he definitely wasn’t in the shop, its floor was bare boards, all the better to wipe up after the tourists dripped their ice creams and trailed their muddy footprints. The dust bristled in his nostrils like static. He sneezed.
“Bless you,” Jeremy said, worked his way through the contents of Miles’ shelves. “We’ve known each other long enough for me to be honest haven’t we?”
Miles shrugged. “Apparently.”
“This really is all crap isn’t it?” Jeremy picked up a tatty looking child’s doll, one of its eyelids fluttering at him while the other stayed in place over its sun-damaged, blind eye. “You have an entire shop filled with rubbish nobody wants.”
“Some of it’s collectable.”
“Jesus, Miles but no, it really isn’t. You’d have more chance learning how to shit money than make it from this stuff.”
“Remind me why we’re friends again?” Miles asked.
“Because I’ll always tell you the truth.” Jeremy smiled making the doll wave its chipped hand at Miles.
“Nobody’s ever been friends for that. I know I haven’t got any good stock okay? If I did I wouldn’t be in this situation. All the good stuff went ages ago.”
Jeremy shoved the doll roughly back on its shelf causing a few of the items on the far end to tumble off and crash to the floor.
“Careful!” Miles shouted, “It may be crap but it’s all I’ve got.”
He walked over to pick the things up, ducking beneath the extended arms of a crumbling shop-window dummy who was modeling a German steel helmet to cover her flaking, bald head.
“Sorry,” Jeremy, contrite at last, stooped down to help. “This is quite nice,” he said, holding up a wooden, rectangular box. “Where’s it from?”
Miles, still angry at his friend, pointed at the Chinese writing burned into the pale wood. “Sweden, where do you think?”
Jeremy rolled his eyes. “No need to be sarcastic, knowing you it’s from one of the takeaway’s in town. How much do you want for it?”
“I don’t want your money,” Miles snapped, snatching the box off him “I still have some pride left.”
“That’s all you’ll have soon, much use it’ll be.”
Miles sat down on the floor, energy deflated, his pointless junk in his arms. “About as much as the rest of this shite I imagine.”
Jeremy sat down next to him. “I’d lend you the money if I had it, you know that.”
“Then you’d be an idiot.” Miles dropped the stock, the box falling into his lap. “I’d only gamble it away.”
“Really?” Jeremy looked at him, “even now, with the threat of a pair of broken legs — or worse — you’d blow it all if I gave it to you?”
Miles turned the box over in his hands. “In a heartbeat.”
Now, lying on a carpet of indeterminate age, he promised himself it was the dust in his eyes making them water, rather than the memory of that conversation. Inch by inch his nerves were reporting in. His left thumb twitched, a spasm that trickled along his arm. Immediately he tried duplicating the sensation, for a moment it seemed beyond him, but then he began to flex the muscle in the ball of his thumb. He would have grinned had he control over the muscles in his face. He continued to flex, and the movement spread, from his thumb to his index finger to the centre of his palm... Soon his whole hand was twitching at the end of the wrist. There was hope yet.
“You haven’t given up?” Fry had asked as Miles stepped into the bar. He gestured for the barmaid to pour him another glass of wine but didn’t offer Miles a drink. “I fucking hope not, there’s no fun — or profit for that matter — in my debtors just offering their necks up for the noose. Where’s the sport in that, eh?”
“I need more time.” Miles replied inching towards the barstool next to Fry but not quite daring to sit on it.
“Oh Christ,” Fry sighed, scooping peanuts from the ramekin dish on the bar, “you’re going to be a fucking cliché.” He popped the nuts into his mouth, slapping his fingers together to knock away the salt. “Please, save me from the ‘more time’ conversation I really haven’t the energy for it, it’s been a long day. I just want to work my way through this wine and then find some nice blonde cunt to treat like shit for a few hours, is that so much to ask?”
Miles opened his mouth to speak but Fry held up a finger to stop him. Miles watched the bar lighting bounce off the grains of salt stuck to Fry’s manicured nail and had the ludicrous notion of licking them off.
“If you were about to say ‘I can get the money’ then you should be warned that my response would have been to smash the stem of this wine glass and put your fucking eyes out with the jagged end, it’s an even bigger cliche than ‘I need more time’. Jesus...” he took a sip of his wine, “...feel like I’ve wandered into an episode of fucking Minder or something, you can’t have any more time and I sincerely hope you can get me my money as I’ll turn you into a spastic if you don’t and there’s no profit in that for either of us.” He beckoned the waitress over. “Get this twat a ten quid chip for the tables,” he told her before turning back to face Miles, “take the tenner, piss it up against the wall — just to show I’m not an unfriendly sort of fucker — and then come back tomorrow with my money or I’ll smash your kneecaps, alright? It’s perfectly simple, cause and effect, black and white, you pay or we hurt you.” The barmaid returned with the gaming chip, Fry took it off her and tossed it to Miles. “There you go, from small acorns great big pissing fortunes grow, you might even win me my fucking money back.”
Miles stood there for a moment, wanting to fling the chip back at Fry, to be the bigger man. He was still imagining what that might feel like when he handed it over to the croupier on the Blackjack table and took the cards she dealt.
He had one good hand but the other still refused to move. That was okay. If he could get the feeling back in one then logically it would return in the other. He scratched at the carpet, it was deep and expensive but oily with dust. Any money here was old and long undisturbed. His neck loosened and he found he was able to rub his face on the pile, a friction burn developing in his cheek. There was a noise from somewhere to his right and he clenched his hand, automatically preparing to defend himself. It came again: the rustling of feathers.
After he had played (and lost) his ten pound chip he spent the last few quid in his pocket on some rolling tobacco and cheap wine. He sat in the darkness of his shop, rolling thin cigarettes and quaffing the wine from the bottle. The amber sheen of the streetlights made everything in the shop look unfamiliar and two-dimensional. He shuffled his way through the stock, turning it over in his hands before hurling it across the room. A chipped decorative plate went first; originally it had celebrated the Queen’s Jubilee, now it rejoiced at nothing more than vented anger, shattering against the wall and showering the floorboards with china fragments. Then the child’s doll that Jeremy had played with: Miles wrenched its limbs from its sockets, flinging them over his shoulder before dropping the rattling, plastic skull to the floor and cracking open its smiling face with the heel of his shoe. Then a pewter tankard, turned into a makeshift hammer to pound a selection of thimbles to dust in their wooden display case. He reached for the Chinese box, meaning to reduce it to splinters, but stopped as its surface rippled in the light of the street-lamps. He fumbled it in shock and it fell to the floor. It must have been a combination of the cheap wine and funny lighting, but he could have sworn it had moved. He stared at it, daring it to repeat its trick. It refused. He took a swig of wine and rolled another cigarette, staring at the box, not trusting it enough to take his eyes off it.
That rustling again, something moving past him in the darkness. He managed to windmill his whole arm across the floor, ignoring the pins and needles. He tried to put his weight on it to turn himself over but his palm beat uselessly at the floor, the nerves shot. He tried again, fighting against the elbow’s inclination to flex uselessly. He placed his palm gently against the carpet, testing it lightly, forcing it to lock in pace rather than just bend. After a few seconds he pushed, praying each joint would hold. A thin strand of saliva pulled from the corner of his mouth as he flipped successfully onto his back and he wiped his lips with a still-tingling but functional hand. He still couldn’t see anything so he flexed his fingers again, wishing the stinging of pins and needles would stop, and burrowed in his jeans pocket for a cigarette lighter. He snagged his fingers on the disposable lighter’s flint-wheel just as he sensed something draw close. He heard footfalls on the carpet, felt the vibration of its weight through the boards. There was a slight displacement of air as something leaned over him. Pulling the lighter from a nest of loose change and pocket fluff he spun the wheel and found himself staring into the black eyes of an ostrich.
The delusion, if that’s what it had been, had taken all the energy out of Miles’ anger so he took the box upstairs to stare at in some degree of comfort. The wine was done but in a twist of good fortune he found half a bottle of cheap-shit calvados in the kitchen cupboard. He’d bought it when trying to impress a date by his ability to cook, it burned all the way down his throat, with alcohol or regret was impossible to tell.
He placed the box on the stained coffee table in the lounge, turned on all the lights and sat down o...
"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.
Book Description Angry Robot. PAPERBACK. Book Condition: New. 0007345046 New Condition. Bookseller Inventory # NEW7.0940725
Book Description Angry Robot, 2010. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110007345046
Book Description Angry Robot, 2010. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M0007345046