Captive Audience


If you are one of those lovely readers who come back time after time, I thank you. There would little point doing this if it weren’t for your presence here. But in becoming those very people I most need, you leave yourselves open to literary abuse. Yes – you are a Captive Audience: and as such you will be subjected to extracts from my books – without warning! Books such as these…

Books that aren’t funny!  And here are two such extracts…

Captive Echo:

Janice found Wozniak floundering around the room in search of something.

“Janice – have you cleaned up in here?” He asked.

She gave him a look that spoke volumes.

“Sorry.” He said, slightly shame-faced. “Of course you have: forgive me.”

Janice felt magnanimous. “Consider yourself forgiven. What are you looking for?”

“Last night Katherine – that’s my Katherine Marcus – brought me a strange flower. Have you seen it?”

“Oh yes – that strange black daisy. I put it into water. It’s in the window – behind the drape.”

But when they both looked in the window they found only a vase containing discoloured water.

“I could have sworn…” Janice began, but quickly dried up.

“Oh, you put it there all right, Janice – I don’t doubt it at all.” Wozniak said – shaking his head – a bitter smile upon his face. “But it’s gone now.”

It took a few seconds for Janice to get her thoughts in order. Then she said, “But I don’t understand: why would whoever took the car, also take the flower? Surely they weren’t connected in any way. Didn’t you say Doctor Marcus gave it to you?”

She then considered her own question. Wozniak was perfectly happy to let her do some thinking: he already had his own theory – and he didn’t want to let on to Janice just yet.

“The connection is Katherine Marcus.” Janice continued, and then abruptly stopped.

Where am I going with this?’ She asked herself.

Wozniak didn’t want to hurry Janice; nevertheless he couldn’t help himself from saying, “And?”

Janice looked him in the eye. “And?” She questioned his spur. “Have you jumped to the end already – and now you’re waiting for me to catch up?”

“I’ve formed a hypothesis, if that’s what you mean.” Wozniak replied. “Go on – ‘and’?”

So Janice continued: “Well, ‘and’ all I can suggest is that Doctor Marcus and the mystery ‘doppelganger’ are, in fact, one and the same. She is playing some huge, weird, ridiculous joke – and you are the victim.”

Wozniak ambled across the spacious room and seated himself at the table. He gave Janice a rueful smile.

“You don’t believe that for a moment.” He stated.

Janice dropped into the seat opposite him.

“Absolutely I don’t: but I can’t think of any other explanation that comes closer to making sense. Well my kind of sense anyway!” Then she looked him in the eye again. “But you can – can’t you? Go on – out with it!”

Wozniak seemed to prevaricate for a moment. He gave a weak smile as he tried half-heartedly to squirm his way out of an explanation. “You’ll think I’m potty.”

“I can only agree or disagree.” She urged.

“No, you can do more than that.” He said – his half-smile fading, “You can lose your respect for me.”

This surprised Janice. “My respect?” She queried. “Why would you worry over such a little thing as that? I’m only your house keeper, you know: not your editor, or whatever it is you call them these days.”

“You’re not ‘only’ anything.” Wozniak came close to sounding annoyed with Janice for the first time. “You’re an intelligent human being whom I happen to respect a great deal. I’d like to think it was reciprocal. And I’d like to keep it that way.”

Janice had been surprised at the disappearance of the car; but it was nothing compared with this outburst. She had always assumed that Wozniak merely tolerated her: but now he calls her by her first name: then seeks her advice as an equal upon a subject in which she has no expertise. And now he talks of respect…

‘But I’m only the woman-who-does’, she told herself.

Something in her look must have transmitted itself to Wozniak because he said, “If I didn’t care what you thought of me, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Don’t take this as an insult, Janice – but you are not a woman of the world. You form your opinions from what you hear in the village, and what you watch on the television. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: I’m not condemning it. Now I have to say that it does give you a narrow perspective. You tend to form your opinions, and stick to them without considering an alternative…”

Janice interrupted. It wasn’t in her nature to simply sit back and listen:

“What’s wrong with sticking to my guns?” She demanded.

Wozniak had expected this. He continued, “If you’re sure that you’re right – then nothing at all. You’d be right to stick to your guns. But that’s my point, Janice: I’ve known you – how long?”

Janice didn’t have to think about the question for long.

“Three months and four days. You owe me back pay for two weeks and four days of that.” She smiled as she spoke the last sentence.

“Right – on both counts.” Wozniak matched her smile. “In those three months and four days I’d like to think that I’ve got to know you pretty well – though it has taken me rather too long to drop the Miss Gale moniker, I confess. My point is – you make up your mind – and that’s that. The thought of altering your opinion doesn’t enter your head. Your life-views are those of your mother. She formed them as a young woman – transferred them to you – and that’s where they’ve stuck. You’re a product of your environment and upbringing.”

Janice went to speak again, but Wozniak held up a hand to stay her lips.

“But a lot of those beliefs were good ones.” He continued, “Morals; good behaviour; and all those sort of things that so many people seem to have forgotten these days: they’re good. More importantly they’re wise: and that’s what you are, Janice. Not knowledgeable. Not even savvy. But wise.”

Janice held up her own hand. “And the point of this back-handed compliment – if that’s what it is?”

“Well I suppose what I’m doing is – priming you for what I’m about to suggest.” He replied.

To Wozniak’s complete surprise Janice stood up abruptly. She scraped her chair backwards – and appeared to be about to leave.

“It’s not sexual intercourse is it?” She asked in alarm.

For a moment – it seemed to Wozniak that – he was looking into the face of a little girl. He had to swallow before he answered.

“No, Janice: it’s not sexual intercourse, or anything remotely connected with it. Jesus Christ almighty, how surreal is this!”

‘‘Now where the hell did she get that idea?’ He thought. ‘Janice you never cease to amaze me.’

Present Imperfect:

Dave Collins lowered himself on to the garden bench beside Judith. The light was poor but she appeared to look comfortingly like she had earlier in the evening. After finding himself in a changed house, and meeting people who were at least ten years too young, she was a rock upon which he could snag his anchor.

Now that Dave had come closer, Judith became aware of a change in him too. She thought back to when she’d first seen him through the dining room window only minutes earlier. Now his clothes appeared to have changed completely.

Where was his jacket? Where had the clip-on tie appeared from?’

For a moment hope soared.

“Dave.” She said urgently, “What’s the date?”

Dave hadn’t expected such a prosaic question. For a moment it threw him.

“I don’t know.” He said after a pause. “I don’t know if it’s the drink, but everything seems screwy. I’m not sure that I’m really here. I think I might be dreaming.”

Judith didn’t really know why she’d invited Dave to join her. Not specifically anyway. She knew that it had something to do with their relationship. Or rather – their lack of a relationship. Quite what she planned to do when he joined her she had no idea. She’d just hoped that inspiration would come to her. But now there appeared to be another facet to a seemingly impossible situation. One that she could not possibly have anticipated.

Digging through her light summer jacket pockets she produced her house keys. Attached to the fob was a small battery-powered light with which she usually illuminated her front door lock when arriving home late at night.

“Sorry about this, Dave.” She said as she turned the narrow beam on to his face.

The light wasn’t bright by any standards, and Dave barely blinked at it shone into his eyes.

What Judith saw in the light should have shocked her. She knew that she should have expected the same Dave Collins that she’d signalled to through the dining room windows only minutes earlier: What she appeared to have sitting there beside her was the same Dave Collins that she had dumped – would dump – ten years in the future.

Now doubts of her sanity resurfaced. She was momentarily speechless. So instead of saying anything she turned the light upon herself.

Dave Collins’ reaction was so obvious that even with the penlight shining in her eyes, Judith could still see the relief written all over his face. And judging by Dave’s subsequent smile, hers must have exhibited a similar emotion.

Switching off the light, Dave said:

“What are we doing here? How did we get here?”

“In the past, you mean?”  Judith felt more comfortable saying the words to someone she knew: someone with whom she could share her horror. Company relieved some of the fear of the unknown. It allowed her to think more clearly.

“Those are very good questions.” She forced a smile. “As regards to getting here – I started walking up Pike’s Lane from the junction opposite the Muck and Bullets in the present day: By the time that I arrived here, I’d shifted ten years into the past. Shit, Dave – Rod’s old car is parked in the drive right now!”

She then stopped to allow Dave to regale her with his own tale. But instead of doing so he said, “But you left with Rod Walker in a taxi: why were you walking back to The Peaks?

Judith didn’t answer immediately. Deep inside she knew why she’d taken the taxi back to The Peaks: She could just as easily have asked the driver to continue into town.

“One last chance, I suppose.” She replied.

Dave gulped audibly. His eyes dropped to Judith’s shapely goose-pimpled legs. “Really?” He managed. Looking up he added, “With me, you mean?”

“Yes, of course I mean you.” She feigned annoyance and slapped at his arm weakly. “Surely you don’t think I fancy Mrs Wilkins’ husband.”

“You get ten out of ten for persistence.” Dave smiled as he took the hand that only moments previous had struck him. He kissed it. “But look where it got you.”

Judith reached up with her free hand, and pulled Dave’s head down towards her face. He didn’t pull back as she lightly kissed his lips. Then their arms were around each other, and the kiss became more urgent. It lasted several long seconds before they slowly disengaged.

“Is this karma?” Judith inquired.

“You mean – was this meant to be?” Dave responded in a way that he could never have imagined before. “Was this the only way that you and I could ever break through

this wall that I’ve built around myself?”

Judith nodded.

“But if that’s the case – who designed it?” He continued. “Who made it possible?”

Judith shook her head. “I don’t know.”

“And now that it’s done,” Dave looked around the garden, and at the fine country residence that it surrounded, “do we go back to our proper era?”

© Paul Trevor Nolan 2018

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