Ike stood before me and lit a roly up. He hawked up and spat at the floor. I had to concentrate in order to remain where I was. Without wanting to cause offence I leaned closer and said, “Ike, you are starting to hum a bit.”.
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“The stench, “he suggested with calm equanimity, “Could probably be attributed to the dead fox I currently have stuffed in this shabby coat.”
I looked down registered that there really was a dead fox inside his coat and then I looked up to meet his disinterested gaze.
“Why have you a dead fox in your coat, Ike?” I asked – reasonable to a fault I thought. You must understand that Ike is the sort of elderly man whom most would consider a tramp. He has all the requisite skills for it – the bitter scent of unwashed, urine stained clothing, the ragged beard, violently unkempt hair and the lingering unreasonable stare.
In my mind this is all a cover and that beneath that cloak of reeking stench lies the tight-limbed vitality and focus of a supremely imaginative intellect.
“To keep away the fucking deers.”
I had to agree, it was a great solution to his problem, although I am not so sure that these “deers” really exist. I looked around at the rest of the park. It was dark and quiet. Only the far away call of the police sirens broke the quietness. I had come to get away from Angus primarily – the park was always a calming place to me - but it was always nice to share a moment with Ike.
“Always nice to see you, Ike. Look after yourself,” I suggested, handing him a couple of quid that was all I had on me. Ike took the money, grunted and stalked off, mumbling incoherently in that trampish style. I turned and decided to head back to the flat for a quick jazz cigarette and another attempt at cheering up Angus.
Angus was single as of ten o’clock last night when his girlfriend returned early from Venice to catch him teaching a fresher the finer arts of drunken fumbling. Since then he’d been round my place moping about like I actually gave a shit and that bringing the mood down to his level was a good thing.
As I walked past a bush, working out a few ideas to get Angus back to his old self there appeared from the darkness of the shadows a face.
A beautiful face with piercing blue eyes and loose brown curls framing them. There was a look of despair and desperation in it. I think there was a moment of complete surprise and shock, then I just simply fell in love.
“Help me, please anyone….help me,” she said in the most heart-breaking way possible. I stopped short as I finally figured out what was wrong. This face, beautiful as it was, was entirely without a body. Utterly disembodied and floating about four feet from the ground in a blueish haze.
The face wasn’t really looking at me but rather over my shoulder. I checked behind me but there was nothing. Then she spoke again.
“Help me. Please anyone…help me.”
Curious I moved to the left and then the right but it appeared she wasn’t looking at me. This disembodied face didn’t see me, which came as something of a relief, although the face was as captivating as anything could be to my eyes. I could imagine the searing shard of electricity I would have experienced if she had actually locked eyes with me.
“Help me. Please anyone…help me.”
“H-h-how?” I stuttered, but the apparition just ignored me, she repeated her plea one more time and then all of a sudden blinked out of existence. I stood in surprise that must have been apparent on my own face. For a minute I checked around the bush but could find no reason for this visitation – no camera, no projector, no disenchanted youth in a tracksuit come to rob me and threaten me with a penknife. Nothing
Eventually, utterly bemused I turned for home, but the face remained in my thoughts. She was so…beautiful. I had been thoroughly entranced and there was some mystery here, unless I had hallucinated the entire minute or so. But it seemed so real I was convinced it was not a figment of my unused imagination.
Ike stood before me again, but the drunken look in his eyes was gone and replaced with a sharp and quizzical look.
“Did you just see a lady?” he said, as if the question was the most important question that had ever been asked.
“Lady?” I asked, confused. Ike’s gaze locked mine and the force of it robbed me of will. “It’s important,” he urged. I shrugged.
“Yeah, I saw her. Or at least I saw something.” Ike’s face suddenly creased into a beaming smile.
He grabbed me by the shoulders and started dancing a stupid little dance and cheering and whooping. I looked around, embarrassed should anyone I know see me dancing with a tramp at two in the morning in a public park.
“Do you know what this means?” he asked me, the joy on his face quite apparent. I confessed I didn’t. “It means that my time in this place is coming to an end.”
He stopped suddenly and began to pace about in front of me apparently deep in thought. He began muttering to himself as if working something out. I presumed his trampish ways were returning, which would, quite frankly, be a relief for me. Suddenly he turned to me with a curious look in his eyes.
“What did she say to you? Was it a message?” he asked, his face once again urgent.
“She was just asking for help,” I said.
“Why you?” he asked, but this appeared to be rhetorical as he was off pacing about and mumbling again. In a short while he suddenly stopped and, I kid you not, punched the palm of his left hand with his right fist a la Batman and Robin.
“Who cares why?” he asked – again possibly rhetorically. He was acting most un-trampish and this disconcerted me. Had my little fantasy of Ike being something more than just a tramp been a little too close to the mark? He darted across to me and pulled me to a nearby park bench. I was disconcerted and vaguely baffled by the last few minutes. Ike sat next to me and put a hand on my shoulder.
“Ever seen the earth from space?” he asked. I wondered where this was going.
“You will now,” he said, a huge smile on his face.
In the miniscule time period in which it took my sloth-like brain to ingest Ike’s words he had pulled a rotten tooth from his mouth and had thrown it in the air, I frowned as I followed it’s flight. As it reached it’s zenith it shone in a spark of blue light. And there it stayed, supported in the ether as a small blue glow is wont to do in these precise circumstances. I looked in open amazement from the shiny tooth and then back at Ike’s gap-toothed grin as he stared upwards and then back at the floating tooth.
Suddenly a tendril of faint blue light snaked out of the tooth and shot into the skies. A moment later a flash of blue from far above answered it. Ike stood up and dragged me with him. He grabbed me by my shoulders and looked me in the face.
“This may sting a bit,” he said in a reasonable voice. The light from the tooth suddenly domed over us and I could only see the park in hues of blue.
Next moment I felt as if my entire body was being pulled apart as if each of my molecules was suddenly actively repulsing it’s neighbour. I could swear that I was being somehow stretched. My vision blurred and began tunneling away to a bright pinpoint of light. I felt a slight queasiness and there was a peculiar smell of burning hair. Then all went black.
I awoke feeling like I had been surgically attacked (by an evil horde of psychotic monkeys on acid… wielding sharpened pumice stones) and then soaked in a bath of hot gin. I had a minor disagreement with my brain which insisted that I fill out forms in triplicate and get some hefty insurance prior to any eye-opening events. Then I hesitantly opened one eye. Everything was as it should be except for the man floating in mid-air wearing a one-piece overall made entirely from what seemed to be mirrored cloth. The man smiled at me. I cranked open the other eye and struggled to sit up. I was lying on a bed in a kind of hospital room full of improbable and technical looking equipment that seemed to fill most of the room. The walls were blank and vaguely plastic-looking and there was one small round window which showed the darkness of the night sky. I looked at the man.
“Ike?” I said, astonished. The man before me floating at an angle to me grinned. It was definitely Ike, but somehow younger, more vibrant and featuring a full set of remarkably white teeth.
“Assuredly,” he said. He pushed off a cabinet and floated towards me. That’s when I realized all was as far from normal as it had even been for me.
“Are we in space?” I asked, incredulously. There were many more questions lining up but that was the first one I asked. Ike grinned again.
“Yeah,” he said with a certain happiness, “In orbit above the Earth actually.”
I looked around and decided to sit up and swing my legs out of bed. I was wearing a white robe that shone with an altogether regal glow. I felt crap.
“You’re the first human to travel via time loop,” he said, “It can be a little uncomfortable. How are you?”
There was something about his voice – it was so much younger and less gravelly. My concern wasn’t yet with my own queasiness but with why Ike was no longer a tramp.
“But you were a tramp?” I said weakly. It was all getting a little confused in my head. I started to feel strange again and lay back down with a groan. Ike started saying something but I just faded away into the blackness of unconsciousness – which was something of a relief. I felt certain when I awoke I would be covered in my own vomit and nursing a half-dead pizza in my own living room (or possibly in the gutter).
When I re-awoke I was alone in the same room, but this time felt good. Not your run-of-the-mill ‘just found a tenner on the path’ good, but really, really good. I felt like humming. I sat up and tried to jump down from the bed but just succeeded at jettisoning myself towards the small round window. Weightless! I must really be in space.
I pride myself on many things – the way my hair gets really manageable after a good shampoo, the blueness of my eyes, the way I can cut a man to pieces with a well-timed retort. But the one thing that I really pride myself is by accepting the truth of the matter whatever the repercussions and just not really worrying about it. I could be told I was being sued by an Afghan terrorist and I would, after a moment of incomparable panic, just accept the fact and look forward to an interesting time in court. I was a positive guy – no denying it. There was only good to be had from waking up in a space ship with a reformed tramp that was very probably an alien from some alien dimension.
I looked out of the window and became one of the few hundred or so that have literally seen Earth from orbit with my own eyes. It was oh so much bluer and more varied in colour than I had dreamed.
“Wow,” I whispered.
“Indeed,” said a voice behind me. I tried to turn around but just succeeded in shooting off in another direction. Ike stood there with his trademark happy grin and watched me.
“It helps if you turn on your gravity loop,” he said, pointing out a belt at my waist I hadn’t noticed before. It was a grey strip of what appeared to be a shiny metal of some description. I floundered, not knowing what to do. Ike floated over as serenely and effortlessly as a dancer and turned a small switch on the belt’s round buckle. All of a sudden I fell to the floor. Gravity had retuned. At least it had returned for me but Ike remained floating in front of me.
“Wow,” I said again in awe. I was witnessing some super space-age shit here and I was impressed. Ike chuckled. I looked closer at him. His hair (which had previously been dirty and black) was a golden blonde colour. He looked about thirty-five as opposed to fifty five and the ever-present three week shadow had gone from his cheeks.
“Come,” he beckoned, “You could use some breakfast. We have some things to discuss.”
I walked behind Ike as we went through the door into a corridor. All the walls were curved and covered in fluted designs and the occasional panel of flashing lights. We went a few yards and passed a couple of doorways through which I could glimpse yet more techno-wizardry and beds. At the head of the corridor was a large round air-lock sort of door. Ike brushed his hand over a pad and the door wooshed open.
“After you,” he said with a little bow. I took his invitation and walked through the doorway. What I saw was, for want of a perfect adjective, amazing. I was on a small platform and over the edge I could see a huge disk of what looked like grassy hills below me, at least a couple of hundred metres across. Above seemed to be nothing but a trillion stars. My breath caught in my throat. It felt like I was looking at a grassy knoll floating in space. I soon realized that what I thought, naively, was open space was actually a huge dome that must have gone at least a few hundred metres high at its highest point. The scent of grass and nature assailed me.
“Impressive, I grant you,” said Ike, “But have a look at this.” Ike walked around the edge of the doorway and I followed. I gasped as I saw the rest of the space ship streaking away from me – a cylindrical body about a thousand metres long and about a hundred metres in diameter – all of it ridged irregularly like it was crumpled slightly from some impact. Off the main cylinder, about halfcame two huge spars of thinner cylinders that gave the ship an overall cylindrical cross shape, with the huge grass-filled bubble at its peak from which I stood and stared. Earth shone huge and painfully detailed below filling fully half the sky. I got a quick jolt of vertigo as I realized I was looking down at Earth from the tip of a space ship with very little between me and the freezing vacuum of space. I suddenly felt less inclined to joke about anything.