I hadn’t been working there long when I first noticed the old man. He was padding round the balcony, glancing about with a look of quiet fascination at the old maps displayed on the walls. He made three circuits, before descending to the ground floor and tipping his hat at the meet and greeter as he left.I quickly learned from my colleagues that he was a regular to the museum and had been for some time. Aside from taking walks around the upper floors, the old man also liked to tell jokes. He would often come over to the information desk and whisper “Have you heard the one about…” to whoever was stationed there that day. The punchlines were terrible, but we would laugh anyway out of courtesy and also because it was a brief spell of cheeriness amongst the drone of weary visitors.From then on, I paid close attention to his habits and saw how he would pause on occasion to pat a handrail or a stone column, like it was a trusted friend. At other times he would suddenly become fixated by an exhibit and beam at it with a knowing smile. This often had the profound effect of drawing other visitors to the object at which point the old man would slip through the bustle and continue on his steady meander.Most of all, he enjoyed looking at the Didier-Pouget that fills the wall outside the wildlife gallery. Nothing seemed to please him more than taking in the sunlit tufts of heather and the sprawling hillside as if it were a view he knew too well or perhaps longed to see in person.The first week he stopped visiting the museum, things began to deteriorate. Chunks of marble began breaking off the staircase in the front hall as visitors passed up and down. Surveyors were brought in to assess the problem, but they were unable to determine a cause and management had no choice but to close them off, indefinitely.The old man appeared a few days later, using the back stairs instead to reach the galleries. Although he still made his rounds, word quickly spread that he didn’t display his usual level of affection towards the exhibits or the building.The following week, the preventative conservator became convinced that there were new cracks appearing in the Assyrian reliefs. At first, no one believed her until she began taking pictures that illustrated the encroaching damage. The curators were bewildered, but those of us who worked on the galleries knew what was happening. You could feel it in the walls and the great oak doorways – everywhere was withering in his absence.The last time I saw the old man, his face was deathly pale. He still wore his broad-brimmed hat, but he’d swapped the tweed for a grey woollen suit jacket. He didn’t tell us any jokes. He barely made it up to the balcony.Over time, things returned to normal; mostly. The steps were able to be repaired and the cracks in the reliefs no longer seem to be increasing.How many have noticed the new addition, I couldn’t say. It’s barely acknowledged, except through the briefest of whispers or in the flick of an eye. But if you care to look, you’ll see that a second figure has appeared amongst the rose-tinted hillside where once there stood a lone female. There’s not much detail to make out apart from a broad-brimmed hat that’s being held aloft as if the person is embracing the scene.No doubt there’ll be others who’ll become a fixture amongst the museum and its collections. It’s what they deserve after contributing so much to the masonry and the treasures within. You might even call it a public service. For those yet to discover their own cherished item, I wish them long and healthy lives.
Sam looks at the pavement as they walk. It’s covered with dead leaves and scraps of litter and there are weeds sprouting at the edges. The sight of it makes him uneasy.
Meanwhile, his dad is looking up at the sky. There’s a hot air balloon floating overhead, red and yellow striped.
Sam can see his dad smiling and he tries to copy him, but there are too many things wrong with the world today.
His dad reaches up towards the balloon and plucks it from the sky, his black hair turning white as it touches the clouds.
You can do anything, he says and tugs the balloon down to earth. The people inside it scream and yell as they are tossed from the basket to their deaths.
He looks at the limp balloon in his hand, wondering what went wrong.
No, we can’t, thinks Sam and he returns his attention to the decaying street and the brittleness of dreams.
The car inched forward as rush hour traffic crawled across the junction. A faint rhythm sailed over from the barbershop and Damien picked it up, tapping on the door while he surveyed the street.
“So what about Keisha, man? What’s going on?” asked Jerome.
Damien leaned back in the seat and put on a grin. “Nothing.”
“Nothing? What do you mean? I seen you.”
“It’s nothing, trust me.”
“Look at you. You’re a player, man!”
Damien watched an old lady pick through the veg outside the mini-market while he tried to find the words. But now Jerome was turning on the stereo. Bass shook the car and the line that Damien had been telling himself, reverberated around his head.
It was just a test. Tests can be wrong.
As seen in issue #156 of Adhoc Fiction.
Their chanting beat against the morning stillness as Ahmed rolled the tyre along with a steady brush of his hand.
The youngsters grinned like it was a new game, but the others knew better. This was their duty.
Tarek looked back at the pillars of black smoke rising above the buildings. He was used to seeing the streets burn, but this was different. Today, they were the ones making the fires.
At a crossroads, Ahmed lay the tyre on the ground. The other children stood back while Tarek tipped the bottle of kerosene over it. When it was lit, another plume erupted, turning the air a dirty brown.
The children looked at each other, their stained faces fierce and proud while men and women cheered them on. Victory is ours, they cried. We’ve won back the sky.
I look at my reflection in the mirror; it’s not what I expected. My face seems big and clunky with a jaw that’s almost comical. How did it get like that from such a slender, effeminate youth?
The light from the window brings out a sheen on my skin. It’s not the healthy kind though, but one of apprehension that goes well with my pasty complexion.
I’m just tired, I tell myself. But then I make the mistake of looking into the murky blue of my own gaze and I’m caught in a paradox. Do they know something I don’t?
Brain separates from body and I feel myself coming apart at the seams. Two halves of a whole sharing a mutual level of distrust. How can I possibly get on with the day if I can’t even get on with my selves? Hang on, there’s three of us in this now?
Self-awareness is a real mindfuck.
Kevin glanced out of the window as a magpie landed in the neighbour’s garden.
He quickly turned away, but the fear had already set in and Kevin dragged himself back to the window.
The bird was pecking at the ground, trying its luck in the cracks between the patio stones. Kevin pressed his face against the glass while he scanned the trees for another.
After a few minutes, the magpie took off over the neighbouring houses. Kevin swallowed hard as he watched it disappear behind the rooftops. Then he walked steadily down the corridor towards the front door.
As Kevin passed the kitchen, his head turned involuntarily towards the oven. He stopped and stared at the display. It was off. He was sure of it.
Kevin had almost reached the door before he sprung back to the kitchen like he was tied to it with elastic. Nothing. It was definitely off.
His damp fingers fumbled with the latch while a frenzy of other unchecked disasters threatened to take hold.
As he opened the door, Kevin saw movement overhead. Two birds. He couldn’t be sure if they were magpies or not. He took a long breath. They would just have to do.
I felt bad as I looked back at Rob through the rusted bars. Although he was happy to go and look at abandoned buildings, Rob didn’t quite share my passion for exploring them (not to the extent of scaling a 15ft gate).
He’d never say that of course, or complain that I was leaving him lingering on the pavement in a foreign city. That was Rob, forever forthcoming, even when it visibly distressed him.
But we had come to Berlin, a mecca for urban exploration at the time and I was determined to get in somewhere, even if it was just the once.
On entering the building, however, I was dissapointed to find that the place had been stripped bare. It was impossible to tell what the building had even been used for.
Exposed steps led me up a few floors, and I scouted the corridors hoping to at least find a view worthy of snapping. And then I saw it.
The facade made me think me of some archetypal gang lair from an 80’s film. I found myself imagining what it must have been like when the new generation first discovered these places, choosing to reclaim them in their own way after the powers that be so dramatically fell apart.
I took a picture and then hurried back down to the gate, where Rob was waiting, albeit looking a little put out.
I was happy then, sufficiently cleansed of my selfish impulses and glad to be here with a good friend. Then we headed off to discover what else had emerged out of this newly reborn city.