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Tue11212017

Last updateTue, 06 Aug 2013 2am

Wednesday, 04 May 2011 18:37

The Draftsman's Descent

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His eyes were too small and dark, his forehead slightly misshapen, his mouth open a little too wide. In fact, I would venture to say his features invoked a certain character of cretinism about him, yet clearly, he was nothing of the kind, because his voice was as crisp and articulate as a Cambridge Don, though I must confess, I can remember none of the words he said to me. Most disturbing is the knowledge that, save for this vague memory of our meeting, I have no idea who he was or how I came upon him.

I only remember his face, his black suit and his voice. Oh, and I remember the odour—a most unpleasant combination of spices and medicinal liquids that remind one of hospitals that have long been abandoned. I shall say no more about him other than to insist that I know he is real. I would cling to the notion that he was a phantom of my mind or a disturbing dream were it not for what he did to me. Everything changed after the night he reached out to me from the dark and touched me with his cold fingers, and it is only now, with time to ponder in this soft, white prison, that I believe I can trace events back to the time I was first afflicted.

I arrived at my desk at nine sharp as I do every weekday morning. As I recall, I was quite shaken: several motor cars—I do not know what possessed them to do so—deviated from their course on the road and came straight for me. I avoided them by taking an alternative alley to the offices, but the event had me quite startled. Unwilling to allow the near-miss to distract my routine, I said nothing about it to my colleagues, though I suspect they knew something had happened; their reaction as I approached my desk ranged from confused amusement to slack-jawed bewilderment. Naturally I ignored them, though I thought their reactions a little exaggerated.

I sat down, straightened the pens on my workspace and removed the top sheet of my blotting paper, which had been stained with the most grotesque imagery. Someone also thought it amusing to interfere with my most recent architectural drafts. The pile I retrieved from my clients (mysterious fellows with a penchant for arcane devices) the previous night, which I had stacked neatly ready for today’s work, had spiralled into disarray. Of course, I tidied these too before settling down to business. Even the ink well seemed to be contaminated. As I recall, the dark red liquid had taken on a somewhat oily—almost viscous consistency—and it was a hair’s breadth from impossible to draw anything with a degree of accuracy. It took several attempts to complete my first design, and this was achieved not without a degree of frustration on my part. Needless to say, I paid no attention to the inquisitive eyes of my fellow draftsmen as I repeatedly shook and flicked the nib.

It was at noon that I began to suspect my day’s struggle was not the culmination of mastermind pranksters. I went to the bakery to order tea and scones and was astounded to see that some careless individual had thrown every last piece of cutlery to the floor and littered the entire establishment with torn napkins. I could only assume it was the work of the peculiar-looking soul lurking in the shadows of the store room behind the counter. My eyes did not linger on the character; though my view of him was limited, his deformities were enough to dissuade me from watching. Much to the confused attention of onlookers, I attempted to draw attention to the figure, but it was clear they confessed no inkling of his presence, and confounded, I went about the business of retrieving some of the utensils from the floor. I replaced them in their trays (all of which were upturned) and asked for my refreshments. The woman behind the counter observed me with eyes that were a trifle dark, and decided that I should not be drinking tea, but proceeded to pour me what looked like blood. On a plate! My vexed complaint was met with derision and—dare I say it—fear. I returned to my desk that afternoon, hungry, thirsty, and utterly bemused.

I would like to tell you that it was just a peculiar day, and maybe one could consider this to be an accurate assumption if compared to the days that followed, for each day grew increasingly more bizarre and terrifying. My ability to make sense of the world was challenged to ever increasingly new depths: the gardens which I pass on my way to work each day—which are usually so proud with order and beauty—became sprawling splashes of tattered weeds and litter; street buskers’ music degraded into tangled discordant notes; people limped about as if crippled; shop window displays were askew; buildings were tilted; the sky torn; animals disfigured.

I was desperate, broken. But I carried on.

Continuing along this vein of absurdity, my final day of employment concluded with Mr. Harris—the senior partner—asking me to step into his office for a quiet word. He seemed nervous as I sat down, and at first I wondered if it had anything to do with the fact that he too was suffering from a similar affliction. His usual technique to put his staff at ease involved mimicking their body language and slow nods of the head with an understanding frown. Today however, he was sprawled across his chair, continually shuffling for better position, one creased shirt tail flapping over his stained breeches, while I sat perfectly straight and still. Even his features seemed different: his eyes were too small and dark, his forehead was slightly swollen, and his lips—drawn as tight as a paper cut across his grey skin—quivered as if contending with a painful yawn.

I think he said, “Is something the matter, Mr. Gleeson?” His voice seemed more distinct than it should be, as if every other sound in the room was made to pay obeisance when he spoke.

“Quite all right,” I told him, and he blinked at me as if I had slapped his face.

The voice much louder this time: “We are all worried about you.”

“There’s no need. I’m perfectly fine.”

The early evening light—a lurid sulphur glow—shone great bands of light over my shoulders, into Harris’s office, and onto the great panels of glass behind his desk creating a clear reflection. In it I saw an area of darkness where his shadow should be, but it was not his shadow. It was man-shaped, mimicking Harris’s posture, but the details of its features were not clear. Only the suggestion of wetness within a hideous, open-mouthed grin prevailed where the misshapen head might be.

“I think you need help, Gleeson. Professional help.” He crossed his legs and swivelled his chair from side to side, examining his pocket watch. “I can have someone examine you within the hour, if that is amenable to you?”

“There’s really no need.”

The thing in the glass pointed at Harris, shifting itself as if ready to stand.

“Please understand. None of us are angry,” Harris went on. “We just want to help. The incident in the bakery, when you threw everything to the floor was”—he grimaced—“somewhat violent. They even considered calling the police.”

I stared at him blankly, trying not to look at the seething mass behind him. Harris seemed all the more nervous, but completely unaware of what lurked at his back, and I dared not speak of it for fear of further accusations against my state of mind. I waited, terrified that the thing might make its move. There was a minute’s awkward silence, and on the glass behind him other things moved around the dark visitor. My colleagues: like a troop of hungry apes climbing across each other to grasp the last ripe banana, the jostling reflections of my fellow draftsmen pushed each other aside for a better view. To convince Harris—and indeed any of my colleagues—that my condition was not a problem, I relaxed into a more causal recline, denying his ominous shadow any credence.

But at once, Harris sprang to life.

“No! Please don’t,” was what he screamed before his chair was thrown back into the glass, creating a spider’s web fracture the size of a door. His hands were outstretched, shaking as the chair tipped, and the dark thing in the glass seemed to consume him. I rushed forward to help, but my hands grasped nothing but air. I saw a wet mouth gaping wide, growing larger, like a vast tunnel ready to swallow me whole. I turned and ran from the office, leaving behind the impression of cold fingers pressed into my shoulders as I left the scene. There were cries of horror behind me. “He’s killed Harris.”

All around was mayhem. At first I assumed the hands trying to grasp me as I staggered through the building were those of my colleagues, but I caught glimpses of their faces as I fought through: cretinous, deformed, leering monstrosities, all identical to the figure that first touched me before all this began, all telling me to calm myself, all telling me to stop. Ugly, black flying things whirled about my head as I collapsed into the street, and as I struggled to get to my feet in the twisted world stretched out before me, an oily wagon with uniformed cretins drew up, then stole me away.

But now I am here. Safe. Safe. There are no mirrors here. Only him in the corner. The cretin.




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Simon West Bulford

Simon West-Bulford lives in Essex, England earning his keep as a Clinical Trials scientist. Having spent too many hours tinkering with game design, painting bugs and battling theologians, he settled down as a writer. His novel “The Soul Consortium” is due to be published by Medallion Press in 2012. You can find out more about his writing at www.simonwb.com

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