Friday, 8 June 2012

The Brimston Lottery

 (A short story) 

For Kate...

     Almost thirteen years had passed since Brimston Town had been discovered under Glasgow, and mild mannered Neil was sat at his desk, miserable, but trying to look busy when the lottery programme started. Its announcements seized everything, confiscated every screen, window, ceiling, pair of spectacles, entrance and exit with transmissions, projections and holograms. Every loudspeaker, telephone and hearing aid was adopted and adapted, even the town statues and gargoyles became animated, taking on the roll of its host - the old and wise, if somewhat elusive town Mayor, Mr. Nicholas Dickens - and with entry being mandatory, the lottery could not be avoided. Even those asleep were woken with a mild burn.  
     The programme itself was a mockery of fantasy, and the people of Brimston had only recently began to question - on account of the people of Glasgow - how it was possible for it to be so perfectly tailored to every single individual simultaneously, but still remain primarily the same. Even if a large group of people watched the same screen, the Mayor would address each person by name as though they were the only one watching. 
"Yes, Mr. Raeside! Could today be the luckiest day of your life so far? Let's hope so because we both know you could use a bit of luck after that incident in the park yesterday, right?" Neil hadn't told anyone about 'that incident in the park yesterday' where his leg had been violated by a massive stray doberman while he tried to eat his banana. "Let's find out as we play this month's lotto!"  
Every single soul in Brimston watched with white knuckles as the numbers were read aloud. 
"And this months numbers are, drum-roll, please... 2, 9, 11, 7, 6..." Neil went dizzy. "And the final number is... 3!"  
"Neil Raeside, you are this month's lottery winner! Everybody, let's all come together and congratulate Mr. Raeside for a spectacular choice of numbers! What a lucky guy! Fantastic! Mr. Raeside, your loved ones need never worry again, isn't that just spectacular? Neil Reaside you have until six minutes and six seconds past six o'clock this evening to comply."  
With elbows on knees and head in hands, Neil despaired as his entire office briefly gathered around to congratulate him, feigning joy and smiling through their teeth as they did. A moment later he was alone again, listening to his suddenly not-so-miserable co-workers muttering under their breath as they glanced over, and with only half an hour until lunch break, Neil had no idea what he was going to say to Kate, who without a shadow of doubt definitely knew he'd won. After all, there was no avoiding the lottery. He was sat hunched, kneading his brow, almost in tears when his phone rang. It was Kate. He answered but didn't speak. 
"Neil, mate, it's alright, don't worry yourself." 
"It's not alright, Kate. It's totally fucked." 
"Yeah, that's what I thought but what the hell. Fuck it. D'you reckon you can pull a sickie for the rest of the day?" 
"I could probably get away with that today, yeah. I did win the lottery." 
"Exactly! We'll get a carry out, head up the mountain, get pissed and everything'll be fine. Sound good?" 
"I suppose." 
"Right then, I'll get you outside your office in, say, what, half an hour?" 
"I suppose." 
"Sorted, then. In a bit!" 
Neil was in shock and grateful for it. Being numbed let him see his situation from a distance, like looking at a bright light through a blacked-out window, he knew it was there but it didn't seem so. And as though he'd held his breath without first taking one, the passing half-hour was a single moment drawn out. Then he was outside.  
"Alright!" There were few people in Brimston unaffected by the lack of what the locals had recently come to know as sunlight. Kate was one of them. 
"Not really, no." 
"Aw, come on, there's no need to look so glum, we've got a massive carry-out!" Kate was holding a carrier bag full of beer in each hand. Neil took a bag and they began clunking their way through the business district towards the town centre. 
                                         Andy Paterson
     The streets were almost empty on account of it being considered respectful to remain indoors when a lottery winner was collecting the prize, and the few people they did pass looked uncomfortable to be near them. Some gave a smile or a nod or even both, but not once was there a smile in anyones eyes other than Kate's. The further they walked, the more barren the streets became. 
"We might as well get cracking with these, there's no fucker about to bust us. Here." Kate handed Neil a bottle opener. 
"Cheers." Said Neil. 
"Fuck me, it talks! Get it down your neck, you'll feel better about things." 
      Brimston town centre was a daunting place when quiet, in that it never truly was. Regardless of how devoid of movement it might become, its silence bounced off every wall, most of which stretched all the way to the roof where the darkness of the city was rarely breached. The buildings were tightly packed, and many had been derelict for longer than anyone knew, pre-dating the town records. They stood now, reinforced, only as support for the Brimston town canopy, lifeless until the lottery required what gargoyles remained. 
     They passed through Stygian Square at the heart of town. It was laden with massive columns and pillars that reached up out of sight, some were man made as buttresses, others formed naturally from dripstones. There were dozens of huge effigies, either sculpted and mounted on slabs or just carved where selenite crystals had formed, gleaming all-but see-through white and shining like an ice sculpture but dry to the touch. Neil and Kate were walking open-mouthed, taking in the magnificence of a place normally bustling, never seen in such loneliness, when suddenly they jumped with fright as every single surrounding statue came to life all at once, congratulating them. Both of them. As a pair, not as individuals. It was the first time either of them had ever seen any statue move other than when the lottery was being announced, and they were addressed collectively. 
"What?" Said Kate, baffled. "Neil, are we celebrities? We fucking are, we're famous! Woohoo!" She held her half-empty beer in the air for a second, then dropped it back by her side and continued, "No, wait... celebrities are knobs," prompting Neil to laugh aloud. He stood looking at one of the statues as it jeered him on, then threw his beer bottle at it, smashing it across the face. Mid-sentence it went silent, assuming its normal posture. "That's more like it, mate, lets get pissed!" They carried on, walking and drinking, enjoying more merriment with every emptied bottle, and before too long they were at the edge of town, outside the very last pub, The Brimston Cavern Tavern. They weren't going to go in on account of Kate's being barred for lewd behavior, but they both needed the toilet so they snuck in, used the facilities and left.
"Full of bloody tourists anyway." Said Neil, and with the city behind them, they marched into the forest. 
     The forest was a large, dark hollow left behind by the long dried up Loch Dis, dense with thousands of huge, dead tree roots which hung down from the blackness above, some pierced the lake bed where only a glimmer of light was reflected, having splintered through from above the mountain beyond, where the breach of Brimston and Glasgow was. They walked carefully and in silence until the light began to greet them in tall, thin beams, and the forest finally opened up to the foot of Mt. Apollyon. The mountain was massive, looming menacingly with the godly glow of sunlight from the world above which shone through the hole in Brimston's roof, hanging directly over the mountaintop just as a halo would hang, shimmering, above an angel. They stepped out into the dazzling flood of daylight and began their ascent.       
“Wow, it's really bright... and I'm staggering about all over the shop here. You know that way when hills just seem to develop all around you?” Said Neil.
"We're on a hill, you twat."
"Yeah, I know, but I think my stupor's making it a bit more hilly than it actually is."
"Neil, mate, it's a bloody mountain. There's no such thing as 'more hilly'."
"Is a volcano still called a mountain?"
"Fuck knows, it's a bastard either way. Let's stop for a bit." They sat and looked out at the stillness of the forest. To the right of it, away in the distance, they could make out the fires of the Brimston Industrial Estate.
"After the last eruption, when the barrier broke, they called us the Eighth Wonder of the World. The real Atlantis. Then they got to know us." Said Neil.  
"Twats. Having said that, I think I’m generally quite an honest person. You know, when I’m not telling lies."
"You are, Kate. You're the best person I know. If you weren't you wouldn't be with me now."
"I suppose, yeah. Come on, let's drink the rest of these at the top."
“You know, apparently everyone up there says drink's a depressant.” 
“Ha! Only when you’re sober.”
     The cliff-face grew so jagged that the radiance of the sun was shattered over it, then so sheer with overhang that they found themselves back in their familiar shade and had to circle the slope on a narrowing ledge, spiraling the dark, scraggy, towering height until the ridge at their feet became barely passable faltering rubble. Side-stepping with their backs to the cliff, they eventually found a pitch-black cranny and followed it up, single file, into the mountain.
"You got a match?" Said Kate.
"Why, you going to fart?"
"Ha! Aye, right in your face, you twat. I cant see a bloody thing."
"Me neither, I don't like carrots."
"Hold on... Yeah, I think there's light ahead." The tunnel mellowed and broadened to walkable rough-rock as they ebbed towards the light. They were awkwardly stumbling, giggling and swearing at how ridiculous climbing a mountain was drunk, when they were suddenly completely side-swiped with awe, finding themselves again in sunlight, but now surrounded by lush, overgrown grass, flowers and foliage. "What the fuck..?" 
"I honestly have no idea. I've never seen anything like it. Never even heard of anything like this."
"It's ace!" The garden was completely still, like a larger-than-life three-dimensional photograph all of their own, and as they strolled through the soft expanse, ushering the only movement, they inspired thousands of seeds, leaves and petals of all colours to fall and float gently around them. They continued up the easy gradient, elated, all the way to the volcano's mouth at the far side of Brimston town, where they stood and looked up out through the breach at the grey/blue sky above which seemed a lot lower than they had expected.
"It's moving. Is it supposed to do that?" Said Neil.
"I don't think so. Maybe, though."
"Do you think things would've been better if we'd been able to move up there?" 
"Nah, there's supposed to be people up there haven't brushed their teeth in so long, when they open their mouth all you get's white noise." 
"Yeah, and thugs that don't know the difference between a paedophile and a Paediatrician. And I hear their licensing laws are just ridiculous." Neil looked down to his feet then at the mouth of the volcano in front of them. "I'm just so sorry Kate. I haven't got the words."
"I know mate. Look at it this way, if I'd won it'd still be us two standing here."
"You think? I'm not sure I meet the required standards."
"Don't sell yourself short, Neil. You're awesome. And anyway, I've lived my half-life to the full." At that moment they both felt something gently soak their skin, and saw it was tiny pellets of water falling from the sky. "What is it?"
"I don't know."
"It's amazing!" Kate looked at Neil, the sunshine above put to shame by her eyes. She stepped forward, peering over the edge of the volcano at the molten inferno rising below, then turned her back on it, downed the rest of her beer, smiled her broadest smile, and cool as stone carved into beauty, she lent back and let herself fall, appeasing Mt. Apollyon's hunger, ensuring it would not need to erupt. 

                                 Jon Horner

The End

Copyright Roddy Smith 2015.

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