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Chapter Six

From here it was a four-mile walk to his village: a further mile to the turning, to which the abominable Russell had now fiercely declined to take him, and from there a further three miles of winding country lane.

The Saab seethed off into the night. Arthur watched it go, as stunned as a man might be who, having believed himself to be totally blind for five years, suddenly discovers that he had merely been wearing too large a hat.

He shook his head sharply in the hope that it might dislodge some salient fact which would fall into place and make sense of an otherwise utterly bewildering Universe, but since the salient fact, if there was one, entirely failed to do this, he set off up the road again, hoping that a good vigorous walk, and maybe even some good painful blisters, would help to reassure him of his own existence at least, if not his sanity.

It was 10.30 when he arrived, a fact he discovered from the steamed and greasy window of the Horse and Groom pub, in which there had hung for many years a battered old Guiness clock which featured a picture of an emu with a pint glass jammed rather amusingly down its throat.

This was the pub at which he had passed the fateful lunchtime during which first his house and then the entire planet Earth had been demolished, or rather had seemed to be demolished. No, damn it, had been demolished, because if it hadn't then where the bloody heck had he been for the last eight years, and how he had got there if not in one of the big yellow Vogon ships which the appalling Russell had just been telling him were merely drug-induced hallucinations, and yet if it had been demolished, what was he currently standing on ...?

He jammed the brake on this line of thought because it wasn't going to get him any further than it had the last twenty times he'd been over it.

He started again.

This was the pub at which he had passed the fateful lunchtime during which whatever it was had happened that he was going to sort out later had happened, and ...

It still didn't make sense.

He started again.

This was the pub in which ...

This was a pub.

Pubs served drinks and he couldn't half do with one.

Satisfied that his jumbled thought processes had at last arrived at a conclusion, and a conclusion he was happy with, even if it wasn't the one he had set out to achieve, he strode towards the door.

And stopped.

A small black wire-haired terrier ran out from behind a low wall and then, catching sight of Arthur, began to snarl.

Now Arthur knew this dog, and he knew it well. It belonged to an advertising friend of his, and was called Know-Nothing-Bozo because the way its hair stood up on its head it reminded people of the President of the United States, and the dog knew Arthur, or at least should do. It was a stupid dog, could not even read an autocue, which way why some people had protested about its name, but it should at least have been able to recognize Arthur instead of standing there, hackles raised, as if Arthur was the most fearful apparition ever to intrude upon its feeble-witted life.

This prompted Arthur to go and peer at the window again, this time with an eye not for the asphyxiating emu but for himself.

Seeing himself for the first time suddenly in a familiar context, he had to admit that the dog had a point.

He looked a lot like something a farmer would use to scare birds with, and there was no doubt but that to go into the pub in his present condition would excite comments of a raucous kind, and worse still, there would doubtless be several people in there at the moment whom he knew, all of whom would be bound to bombard him with questions which, at the moment, he felt ill-equipped to deal with.

Will Smithers, for instance, the owner of Know-Nothing-Bozo the Non-Wonder Dog, an animal so stupid that it had been sacked from one of Will's own commercials for being incapable of knowing which dog food it was supposed to prefer, despite the fact that the meat in all the other bowls had had engine oil poured over it.

Will would definitely be in there. Here was his dog, here was his car, a grey Porsche 928S with a sign in the back window which read, ``My other car is also a Porsche.'' Damn him.

He stared at it and realized that he had just learned something he hadn't known before.

Will Smithers, like most of the overpaid and under-scrupulous bastards Arthur knew in advertising made a point of changing his car every August so that he could tell people his accountant made him do it, though the truth was that his accountant was trying like hell to stop him, what with all the alimony he had to pay, and so on --- and this was the same car Arthur remembered him having before. The number plate proclaimed its year.

Given that it was now winter, and that the event which had caused Arthur so much trouble eight of his personal years ago had occurred at the beginning of September, less than six or seven months could have passed here.

He stood terribly still for a moment and let Know-Nothing-Bozo jump up and down yapping at him. He was suddenly stunned by a realization he could no longer avoid, which was this: he was now an alien on his own world. Try as he might, no one was even to be able to believe his story. Not only did it sound perfectly potty, but it was flatly contradicted by the simplest observable facts.

Was this really the Earth? Was there the slightest possibility that he had made some extraordinary mistake?

The pub in front of him was unbearably familiar to him in every detail --- every brick, every piece of peeling paint; and inside he could sense its familiar stuffy, noisy warmth, its exposed beams, its unauthentic cast-iron light fittings, its bar sticky with beer that people he knew had put their elbows in, overlooked by cardboard cutouts of girls with packets of peanuts stapled all over their breasts. It was all the stuff of his home, his world.

He even knew this blasted dog.

``Hey, Know-Nothing!''

The sound of Will Smithers' voice meant he had to decide what do to quickly. If he stood his ground he would be discovered and the whole circus would begin. To hide would only postpone the moment, and it was bitterly cold now.

The fact that it was Will made the choice easier. It wasn't that Arthur disliked him as such --- Will was quite fun. It was just that he was fun in such an exhausting way because, being in advertising, he always wanted you to know how much fun he was having and where he had got his jacket from.

Mindful of this, Arthur hid behind a van.

``Hey, Know-Nothing, what's up?''

The door opened and Will came out, wearing a leather flying jacket that he'd got a mate of his at the Road Research Laboratory to crash a car into specially, in order to get that battered look. Know-Nothing yelped with delight and, having got the attention it wanted, was happy to forget Arthur.

Will was with some friends, and they had a game they played with the dog.

``Commies!'' they all shouted at the dog in chorus. ``Commies, commies, commies!!!''

The dog went berserk with barking, prancing up and down, yapping its little heart out, beside itself in transports of ecstatic rage. They all laughed and cheered it on, then gradually dispersed to their various cars and disappeared into the night.

Well that clears one thing up, thought Arthur from behind the van, this is quite definitely the planet I remember.


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