Unlike Silent Apocalypse and Silent Resistance, ‘Captive Echo‘ isn’t suitable for all ages. It is a mystery novel, with a heavy dollop of science-fiction added to make it that bit different. And, of course, sex and violence. It follows the adventures of a TV writer who has suffered writer’s block for longer than he’d care to admit. He has begun a sabbatical in a rural idyll – hoping to re-charge his creative batteries – and has taken a lover too, in the shape of a female scientist at a nearby research facility. But when she apparently attacks him in the village store, he and his housemaid begin an investigation that leads to an unexpected relationship, and uncovers a threat to all civilisation…
Here’s a smidgen from it….
Wozniak had avoided turning on the television after arriving back at The Peaks, and chose instead to read for a while. Mrs. Wilkins also had an extensive collection of CDs in the house, so Wozniak made use of them as well. As a result the evening passed both quickly and pleasantly. Only when he released a huge yawn did he realize that the time was fast approaching midnight. He waited until he heard the church bell ring midnight, then using the landline he tried putting through a late call to Janice; but for whatever the reason he couldn’t get a dialling tone. When he tried his cellular phone he met with the same result.
“Bloody weird.” He complained to the empty drawing room. “I’ve never noticed a dead spot here before.”
In fact he didn’t know many places where there were ‘dead spots’ any more. The cell phone was ubiquitous to the point of omnipresence. He considered setting up his computer, and e-mailing Janice via his wireless Internet connection – but then thought of all the jacks that he could easily poke into the wrong sockets, and decided against it.
‘In any case’, he argued with himself, ‘there’s no guarantee that I’ll make a connection anyway’.
He believed that the chances were high that the Wi-Fi was down too. So he decided that he’d call her in the morning.
‘She’s probably in bed already anyway’.
Wozniak was just getting undressed when the thought struck him:
‘So why hasn’t Janice telephoned me?’
If she couldn’t kiss him goodnight, he reasoned, she would always wish him goodnight. It was as natural to Janice as breathing. He tried to shake off an icy chill that ran down his spine and made him shudder involuntarily. So it was with a slightly troubled mind that Wozniak clambered into bed and slipped almost instantly into slumber.
Wozniak woke once in the night. He had a distinct sensation that something wasn’t quite right – but couldn’t identify the problem. Certainly no sound had disturbed him. Perhaps it had been a dream: he wouldn’t have been surprised – especially following his strange conversation with the dimension-crossing mind of Len Peters: his sub-conscious was bound to become over-active. Against his will, his thoughts began to roam. They were prone to such behaviour if he woke in the night, and as a result many were the times when his sleep had suffered. He sighed, and decided to do something to take his mind off such subjects – and hopefully get back to sleep. He considered reading, or maybe making a cup of cocoa. Then his bladder provided him with the answer to his problem.
Remaining in the dark (turning on the light was fatal if he ever wanted to get back to sleep) Wozniak made his way to the en suite bathroom. In the utter darkness of the country night his hands found the lavatory bowl. Lowering himself on to the seat he was able to urinate successfully without soiling the floor; but when he stood up and pressed the flush button nothing happened. Likewise when he tried washing his hands in the basin: all that occurred on both occasions was a low-pitched gurgle in some distant pipe. Annoyed at the inconvenience, he decided that he’d worry about it in the morning, and duly vacated the small room.
Returning to his bed, Wozniak found that the soles of his feet had become gritty. As he dusted them off with his hand, he assumed that Mrs. Wilkins had missed a spot when she’d vacuumed the house prior to his arrival. It seemed like a reasonable explanation to him, so he lowered his considerable bulk between the sheets once more. It took a while, but eventually sleep overtook him.
Wozniak had set his electric radio/alarm for seven in the morning. He had no real need of the device: his body clock operated like a metronome. It was accurate almost to the minute. He awoke on cue, and quickly noticed that his alarm had failed. But then, as the sleep fell away from his brain, he also noticed that it was too dark for seven a.m. A feeling of apprehension crept over him. Had something awoken him again? He turned to look at his alarm. No digital readout blinked back at him. With a sense of relief he concluded that there’d been a power cut during the night. It might even explain the loss of running water earlier. He was no expert, but his internal logic concluded that if the pumping station was off-line – then it was quite possible that the water supply would be too. Then, as his eyes adjusted to the feeble light penetrating into the room through the heavy drapes, he realized that his alarm clock hadn’t failed him: it was absent.
For a moment Wozniak lay there in a state of utter bafflement. He knew for absolute certain that he’d placed it beside the bed the afternoon previous, and had set it before going to bed. He thought back to his nocturnal bladder evacuation. It then dawned upon him that there’d been no light cast by it then either. He cursed himself: he should have noticed. Trying to find some logical explanation to the mystery he even considered the possibility that his awakening was the result of a burglar’s visitation, and that – along with the Wilkins family silver – his clock radio had been stolen. But then, as he lay there considering the wisdom of leaping into action at least three or so hours too late, he recognized the ridiculousness of that conclusion: his alarm was a cheap clock, mass-produced in the People’s Republic of China. It was worth almost nothing new: second hand he doubted if he could give it away. No one in their right mind would risk their freedom, or a punch on the nose, by stealing into his bedroom – with him asleep inside it. Then he looked at the drapes. Normally their fit was rather imprecise. Light always crept in through one or more of the chinks in its armour; but the light his eyes now perceived was dull and grey, and simply insufficient to allow him to see the inside of the room properly. Then he remembered the date, and that chill that he felt the evening previous ran the length of his spine once again. With his fingertips Wozniak felt the bedclothes that covered him. They felt crisp and…Was it possible that his sense of touch was feeding his brain false information? The bedclothes felt dirty – dusty – abandoned.
Wozniak was out of the bed like a teenaged boy late for a football match. As he wrenched open the drapes – the reason for the darkness now stared him in the face: someone had boarded up the windows from the outside! Fortunately the sash windows opened upward, so he could wrestle one of the boards loose. As early morning sunlight flooded through the gap in the boards, he could see that the room had been long abandoned. Months at least, he calculated. Now that chill made him begin to shake. He was certain that his sub-conscious knew exactly what had happened in the night, and that his conscious mind was now plucking up the courage to investigate. Outside in the garden he noticed that many of the flowers had gone to seed, and the grass hadn’t been mown for a considerable time. In short, there was absolutely no sign that The Peaks was inhabited, or had been for several weeks at least.
Once he got used to the idea, Wozniak chuckled mirthlessly: he was no Rip Van Winkle. He was not lost in time either. And he’d certainly not lost his mind. Somehow or other he’d crossed the barrier between dimensions. He was ‘Otherwhere’ – and he felt pretty certain that he knew the place well – if only by association.
© Paul Trevor Nolan
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