John gripped the barrier. Will he jumble the words like last time? He wished he wore a clean shirt as sweat was gathering under his armpits. Oh, no! He wasn’t wearing his favourite blue dotted tie, his lucky charm. Yesterday, he spilled coffee over it as he reported the terrorist attack in Spain. Concentrate. He can do this, he has to be professional.
The train blast kept replaying in his mind. The image of those poor, poor children and his distraught sister screaming had kept him awake throughout the night. Traumatised, he clung onto the cold barrier. Lost for words.
We were ten-year-olds huddled in a spinning Alice In Wonderland cup at the fairground. Martha, my sweetheart, kept our dream alive, and we created Dolly’s Amusement and Theme Park.
Just one last look. Early morning, quiet, and I feel so proud for the pleasure people get from our dream. Soon, excited children and anxious dads goaded and dared to a ride on the Hell-Coaster will arrive.
We did good, Martha had said. She is calling me.
It is time. I feel my soul discard this body as I journey free and home to the other side. Is that you, Martha?
‘It’s a message, Watson.’ He blew a cloud of hashish smoke. ‘Lord Carmichael will refuse the ransom.’ Watson spluttered. ‘Do you have to?’ ‘Oh, there’ll be no demands.’ Holmes shrugged. ‘The infusion enhances concentration; try it.’
‘Surely the kidnappers know of his Lordship’s wealth.’ ‘My dear Watson.’ He grinned. ‘Look, what do you see?’ ‘They dropped a cord.’
‘Lady Jane is an eccentric intellectual and a fanciful romantic.’ ‘Holmes! She is in mortal danger.’
‘The symbol eight; love and infinite wealth.’ Holmes smiled. ‘A Pearl of the East and a paper boat.’ He laughed. ‘Lady Jane has run off to Hong-Kong.’
I enjoyed the view from the hotel balcony; people watching. A glorious evening, and I watched lovers strolling. Hell! I rushed down the stairs two at a time. Sprinted across the promenade.‘John,’ I screamed. ‘John.’ I leapt onto the beach. ‘Debra!’ I tripped in a castle moat. The pain shot through my ankle. My mouth filled with sand, and I spat and cried. A poodle licked my ears until the owner came to help.
Three hours later, John gasped, looking at my bandages. ‘Let’s enjoy our honeymoon,’ he said and opened the Champagne.
The chimney’s shadow on the lawn signalled gin time. Yahoo! Charlie mixed the drink with tonic and lemon; his hands were shaking and his pulse raced. He needed this rush to suppress his anxiety and to relax. The DTs were horrific at night, locked in his room. Before the programme he drank two full bottles a day to work coherently. It was unfair of Amtrak to fire him; hell, those modern trains drive themselves. He shouldn’t have said that, but it was the colour test that found him out. Being an alcoholic is not as easy as black and white.
Everyone is in hiding, that is what we are told to do. Hide. At night it is worse than ever. It’s an unseen enemy, but I can sense them; watching, waiting, wanting to invade my body. I must fight back, as I did in Korea, for my country. Well, I am watching them too; the specks of lights hovering, menacing, grouping, slowly surrounding me. Wear masks, that is what we are told. I don’t recognise myself anymore, or anyone. Who is who? I can’t stand this confinement, I need fresh air and freedom. I am going out, I’ll show them.
‘Let’s have an ice cream,’ Carolyn said, ‘and stop talking politics.’ We were here to visit her grandmother and not to solve the Middle East’s problems. Having refused my money, she sold her Breitling to pay for our flights, but I insisted on booking the best hotel. She wasn’t pleased and mumbled something about expenses.
Next morning, she disappeared for the day. Where? That evening she burst into the hotel room. ‘Get packing, we are leaving. Now!’ ‘What?’ Her clothes were dirty with a smell of gun oil; a fresh gash on her head. ‘Now!’ We dashed to the airport.
The front door letter box rattled, and I heard a dull thud as something hit the mat. I rushed and picked up the small parcel. Turning it over a few times, I read my name and address, but there was no return address.
Inside the packet, I found a rectangular block of a polished piece of oak. There was no obvious lid, and I wondered if it was a musical box or a curiosity toy. I tried turning and twisting it. It seemed to be a solid wooden brick, so I gave it a shake, then dropped it onto the kitchen table. I drummed on it with by fingers and then knocked with my knuckles to see if it was hollow; I heard something shift inside.
‘Stop!’ shouted a voice. ‘Oh, please stop.’
I looked around. Did I just imagine the wood speak? I turned it over and tapped it on the table.
‘That’s enough,’ screamed the voice, then it whimpered. ‘Please help me.’
I gave it another good shake and put it down on the table, really not knowing what to expect.
‘Stop, stop, please just stop,’ it cried, ‘you’re making me dizzy.’
‘What’s going on?’ I said, looking around and out the window just in case I was being observed.
‘Please let me out.’
‘How?’ I felt ridiculous. ‘Where’s the lid?’ Some prankster was probably listening, and I played along. ‘If you tell me how to open it, then I’ll get you out.’ I wasn’t sure what the point of the joke was, or where it was leading to.
‘Once I am free,’ it said, ‘your every wish will come true.’
‘Ah! So, you are a Genie trapped in a box,’ I said, still sceptical and looking around for some trickster. ‘It’s just my imagination.’ I muttered.
‘Ah, very good,’ said the voice, ‘you are getting close.’
‘I’m going mad, I must be delirious,’ I felt a moment of rising panic. ‘I’ve no idea what’s happening here.’
‘Think, think of an idea. Use your imagination and soon, we will be free.’
‘We! Is there someone else with you?’
‘No. I mean us, you and me. Please, get those grey cells working, procrastination is not an option.’
I gave the shiny oak another good shake and heard it giggle. It started knocking from inside the wooden block.
‘Stop it. Please release me,’ it cried. ‘Remember, I am the secret to your future; your fortune.’
‘That’s it, I’m getting my saw,’
‘Wait!’ shouted the voice. ‘For a hundred years I’ve waited, but if you damage the wood, you destroy the spell. A curse will fall on anyone who damages this box. The secret to your future will be lost forever.’
‘Then how can I open it. Where is the catch to release a lid?’
‘Oh, why do you want to come into the box? Trust me, there is no way out.’
‘So, what is the secret to my future, tell me.’ I grabbed the box and shook it. ‘Tell me. I’ll get a chisel and split you.’
‘No use,’ the voice coughed. ‘Destroying me breaks your chance of any good fortune.’
‘This is ridiculous.’ I said, ‘I’ve no idea how to get you out.’ I was becoming frustrated and bored with the dilemma. Was I talking to myself again? It had been going on for weeks, and every day I struggled to maintain my sanity.
‘You know the answer,’ said the box, and it laughed. ‘Ha, ha. Time is running out. Find an idea. Think, just think.’
I sat for hours admiring the perfect sheen of the polished oak, and its dark and light hues along the grain. It would make a great paper weight or door stopper, but then it would mock me each time I looked at it. My future, my good fortune apparently my sanity, all depended on an idea of freeing the Genie trapped in a knotted wooden block. How ridiculous.
I threw the wood into the fire and watched as it burned; the flames were a crystal blue and dazzling white. I decided the responsibility for my future and fortune would be my making and independent from some magical idea trapped in a box.
That night I went to bed feeling frustrated and angry at my impatience for not solving the problem that may have freed the Genie. Would he really fulfil my fantasies and dreams? Perhaps it was a missed opportunity.
Regardless, I slept well and in the morning the rattle of the letter box woke me with a jolt. I fell out of bed and hit the floor with a dull thud on the carpet. I tried to get up, but knocked my head on a wooden ceiling. It was dark. I felt as if I was being carried and shaken, then I realised I was in a box.
Suddenly the answer to my future and fortune was clear; if only I was wise enough, if only I could “think outside the box”. Was it too late?