Another new story today. This one crept up on me though, I swear. I had every intention of continuing The Flesh, but then this happened. I apologise for the new content, old content shall be continued shortly!
I started this story using the first person. Very much in the Jim Butcher / Michael Carey style. It just didn’t work for me though, I liked the content, hated the perspective. It just seemed wrong. This is from someone who acknowledges that writing first person is a lot easier than third. So, somewhat laboriously, I turned it into third person. It worked as I was much happier with it and rattled onwards.
This is the longest story so far on StoryAWeek, 1752 words (I was wrong about this, Story 5, Pizza, was 2270 words). Overall I’m happy with this story. I wish I had more time to re-work it but I don’t right now, so it is going to have to do
This is still my favourite story on the site, so far. Welcome to Story 12, the odd world of The Perambulators.
The Initial Visit
Flicking on the outside light, Michael opened the door. He stepped back a little as a few rain droplets cooled his un-slippered feet. Given the time of night, Michael had expected the repeated doorbell to herald a drunk friend, or family with terrible news. At the very least some hooligan types thumping him. He opened the door without using the safety chain.
Two men stood in the rain, the nearest an exceptionally tall man. He did not bend to be visible under the door jam. He just looked down his nose at Michael. The other man was shorter, outside the weak light sprayed by the newly lit fluorescent bulb. He was a little rounder, and constantly moving as though trying to get past the thin guard in front of him. He danced, crablike, never stepping forward.
The tall man coughed. A small deliberate cough that announced loudly – you better be listening. I may say this only once and you can bet this will involve a test later.
“Yes?” He tried to say yes with confidence but somehow he ended up squeaking a little. He had never liked authority figures, and responded with a cloudy mixture of suspicion, fear and anger.
“That’s me.” He over compensated, sounding like a talking cartoon bullfrog. Part of Michael’s brain set about kicking his vocal chords into submission.
“Michael John Davis?”
“You know it’s two a.m., right?” The tall man shakes his right arm and slowly lifted it, checked the thin analogue watch on his wrist and returned his arm in a deliberate motion.
“I do.” The silence spread over a few heartbeats.
Michael felt something more was expected of him. “Right,” he said, his brain a little off track. A quite sound of wood sliding on wood, followed by the noise of small items shuffling about made Michael turn. He thought it was one of the cats. The shorter man, what he had assumed was a man, was in the hallway behind him. He was a she. A rounded woman with a tightly held back ponytail curled in on itself in a bob. She was by no means fat, she just seemed rounder than she should be. As though she was obese, yet not. Her head, body and hands were all somehow more rounded than her actual size would suggest.
She moved foot to foot, rifling through the drawer in the birch hall table.
“Hey!” Michael said loudly, but she didn’t react at first, merely slowing her rifling to a lazy shuffle. In a heartbeat or two she turned her head and looked over at him, her face a flitting mixture of happiness, anger and shame. As though she was a puppy caught shredding toilet rolls. The good ones, not the cheap one put in the guest bathroom.
“Constable Smithe,” Reynolds called from behind Michael, “if you will.” Smithe looked past Michael at Reynolds, then stepped away from the drawer, leaving it open. The between, Michael thought, they’re from the Between. Adrenaline shot through him. Mental alarm balls sounding, he re-assessed the woman in front of him. She had power, not lots but some. He didn’t feel that she was bad – she didn’t give off that sense or smell – but that only meant she was not full on evil. Not that it would stop either of them from being cruel or indifferent.
His unconscious decided to start yelling – flee or fight! Michael wasn’t sure. The indecision worried him, as making instant choices had always been his strong suit. Even if the choices were wrong at least they were quick. He pulled himself together. They claimed to be police, so he’d play the game and see where this went.
Feeling a shade calmer, Michael turned and squeaked in sudden surprise. The tall man was stood directly in front of him, well inside his personal space. Michael’s nose brushed the lapel of his black suit. Hastily he stepped back, trying to not to make it look like a scramble. He looked Reynolds up and down. Black suit, thin, quite non-descript. Nothing screamed police but he gave off that authoritarian air. He was used to being in charge. He stood right on the threshold.
“So, you’re the police?” Michael asked, his voice not just hinting at incredulity but dripping with it.
“Yes, Michael. I can call you Michael? Of course.” It wasn’t really a request. The tall man nodded behind him without turning, indicating Constable Smithe. Michael looked, the fluorescent bulb finally cast a wider pool of light. Smithe was inexplicably shuffling around in the semi-darkness behind Reynolds. “That’s PC Smithe. I’m Inspector Reynolds. Perambulators.” He pulled a wallet from inside his jacket and let it fall open. The wallet contained a police badge; it looked real enough to Michael. He had had enough dealings with the police to spot a poorly done fake, but that was about all.
Michael reached out his right hand. Instead of shaking it, the Inspector looked at it disdainfully until, feeling somewhat ridiculous, Michael lowered his hand again. Reynolds slipped the wallet back inside his jacket. Clearly these were not the smiling, friendly kind of community officers who regularly pedaled around. These were the ones that didn’t give a bugger what you think, probably stepping out of some large unmarked car. While clubbing a seal or two.
“Yes.” Behind Reynolds, Smithe tittered.
“I’ve been a police consultant a number of times and I’ve never heard of you. Why?”
“We’ve heard of you, Michael. You’ve been making quite the waves. A scene even.”
“Popped up on our radar a few times, you have. So we started to keep an eye on you.”
“Or two.” Added Smithe, her voice light.
“You should invite us in, Michael. We have matters to…discuss.”
“At 2 AM? What’s this about? Can’t it wait?” By now Michael would have been disappointed if they’d have bothered to answer that, so even as he whined he stepped aside and gestured for them to come in. Reynolds bent from the waist under the door-frame and walked past him with a slow long stride that was deceptively fast. Michael waited, then looked out for PC Smithe. He couldn’t see her.
When he looked back around, she was his lounge, lifting up sofa cushions with what looked a gleeful expression. The hall table’s drawer had been closed and Reynolds was peering into Michael’s kitchen. He closed the front door and flicked off the light. Darkness rushed back to fill the void.
Michael walked up his hallway feeling increasingly annoyed. Reynolds stood motionless in the centre of the room. Smithe scuttled to and fro in front of the window. Michael hadn’t drawn the curtains but they were drawn now. Michael’s lounge was a dark room, the walls a deep red. The furniture was real wood, old yet good quality, but all mismatched. Michael had inherited it from various relatives throughout the years. He still had a spare bedroom with nothing in it. He thought someone might give him a bed for it eventually.
It was the largest room in the house, which wasn’t saying much given the house’s diminutive stature. Michael, seemingly not wanting the space, had lined two of the four walls with bookcases. Books were nestled rows deep, piles of books rested in the corners. On one such pile a 19 inch TV sat. Bent rabbit ears forlornly sticking up. It had a dial on the front, the black and white set was a left for Michael by his grandad.
Michael looked at the police, a strange pair but not hostile. He admonished himself, not hostile yet. He noticed that both of them were dry.
“And so, Michael, we have some questions.”
“No, I have some questions. And then I might answer yours.”
Smithe tittered, a high mocking trill. Reynolds arched an eyebrow.
“Oh yes? That might be interesting. Allow me to make one thing clear though, Michael, I’m a bastard.”
Michael got the impression that was a friendly warning, at least as friendly as the Inspector could manage. He shrugged and, moving a stack of errant books, sat down on the sofa. Reynolds sat in the chair opposite him as Smithe flitted around the room silently. Not even a floorboard creaked as she moved.
“You bang on my door at two in the morning. It’s not to arrest me. I don’t think you’re the type to mess about.”
“Go on,” Reynolds said in a flat tone.
“I think if it was for that I’d be in the back of a van already getting the rubber hose treatment.”
“Perceptive. As you so eloquently say, we do not mess about. These are not, however, questions, Michael.”
He ignored Reynolds and carried on. “You claim to be police but I’m guessing that if I phone the local station they’ll never have heard of you.” Smithe, covering a laugh, snorted at this.
“So I assume you want something from me.” Michael continued. Reynolds merely re-arched an eyebrow in response. Michael pressed on. “You’re not regular coppers. You’re working the Between.” Reynolds slowly started to withdraw a black plain notepad from his jacket pocket, staring at Michael as he spoke. “She’s folding space slightly, that’s how she does that movement trick. I don’t know what you do, or are, but something …” He trailed off.
“Oh yes?” Reynolds replied in such a way that is sounded more of a question than conformation.
“I heard the police had been poking around in the Between, didn’t know for sure.”
“Now, Michael,” Reynolds had the notepad open, holding it out in front of him. He wasn’t looking at it though, he stared at Michael. “as you say we’re not regular police. We’re the other ones.”
“Indeed. The ones who walk the Between.”
Michael’s head swam. “Are you serious?” He blurted. “You’re trying to police the Between?”
“All of it? Do you have any idea how big it is?”
“No and no. Do you have any idea how big it is, Michael?” Reynolds continued staring, pen poised.
“More than you.”
“We, like the Cheshire Constabulary before us, are requesting your talents, Michael.”
“Michael, we not policing all of the Between, only when a crime crosses from here to there.”
“Or there to here.” Said Smithe. She stood behind the sofa, her voice soft in Micheal’s ear. He tried very hard not to jump and gritted his teeth.
“Really, Michael, we insist.”
MJ Cook: The Between is a another reality brushing up against our own. If you are really lucky, or unlucky, you might cross from one to the other. Otherwise you’d have to be powerful, skillful or very determined indeed. The Between is a land, a world, of wonders. Of magic, huge civilisations, chaos and war. Good, evil, cruelty and compassion are possible to much greater levels than our own world. In the Between the highs are higher, the lows are lower. Michael is one of the skilled, he can cross into the Between. He doesn’t want to have to protect the Between from the police, or the world from the between. But if doesn’t, who will?
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