d e c o m p o s i t i o n
He was already late when he left his home to go to work. The hard sole of his shoes struck the surface — clack clack clack — leaving a trailing echo in an attempt to make up for lost moments. Turning left, he ran into a deserted street lined on one side with derelict warehouses, the other with a neglected terrace. The decrepitude seemed to increase as he carried on downwards. To him, it was a familiar scene that rarely altered, only slight time – minutes here or there – affected the various patterns and movements with ritualised pedantry. All his life he had been in this place, seemingly the only tangible thing against the backdrop of changeless, grey uncertainty.
The uncanny quiet could have been unsettling, but it was not. It may have been raining, or just overcast and cloudy. Perhaps the sun was shining weakly.
A figure moved towards him, a dirty orange smear stooping slightly with an indistinguishable load.
Soon, out of breath and perspiring, he neared the end of the road where others began. Slowing to a fast walk, he began to look about him.
Like most places similar to this, there are always abandoned houses that focus the attention with their sinister, almost supernatural presence and brooding qualities. The ruined house at the very end was no exception. A little larger than the others, it appeared almost menacing. Unlike other dwellings in similar situations, it did not remotely resemble a face or skull. The windows were long broken, and misspelt graffiti faded into the brickwork. The front door was set back from the street and boarded over in an erratic criss-cross.
The figure shuffled around the corner and into view. Every day, the paperboy’s position on the street was dictated by chronology. Five minutes earlier, and they would pass half a street further back; if on time, half a street ahead. Today, several minutes late, they passed parallel with the threshold of the old house. In the distance, a church bell sounded the half hour. The paperboy looked up from inside the print dulled satchel and stared blankly ahead.
He would have to do without a newspaper today if he was to make it to the station on time.
Now, it is usually at this point in the narrative that you are told how mundane the protagonist’s vocation was (usually in an indescribable office, in the sense that it is never described), and how much he loathed the work et cetera et cetera — all in a couple of nondescript sentences that fill a gap and hint at a sense of realism before the story moves to the next key incident. If truth be told, as perhaps it shall, he found his work incredibly stimulating and fulfilling. He was complete in his labours, enjoying the company of his colleagues as much as he delighted in helping solve the many and varied problems of his clients.
In fact, the next key incident was so indistinct and cursory that it is barely worth noting. However, despite its diminutive status, it is nonetheless an important device in its own right, perhaps even alluding to a sense of metaphoric or symbolic significance.
Over a period of working weekdays (the weekends being irrelevant to this as he stayed inside his home), he began to notice some minute changes on his daily constitutional. Firstly, the paperboy’s equilibrium rise and fall seemed to even out, almost compensating for his time so that their paths would cross by the old end of terrace house. There was also something increasingly odd about that as well. Subtly, hardly noticeable to the casual observer, the boards sealing off the doorway began to loosen and disappear. Sometimes, it was only a nail that vanished, at other times entire planks. Eventually enough had been removed to reveal a battered panelled door beneath.
If his thoughts had not been so entirely devoted to business and public transport, he could have thought these recent developments as being slightly curious. If he had dwelt upon these things in greater depth, he may well have started to feel inexplicably perturbed — but he was a sophisticated creature, and would not listen to the sensitised hysteria of his primordial ancestry.
It was on a particular morning, much like the one in the beginning, that he gathered things were not as they should be. As he approached the end of the terrace, he realised that he had not seen the blank faced paperboy. Drawing level to the front step, he saw that the boarded up door no longer was. All the planking had gone, and what was there had opened inwardly on one hinge.
Now, you are probably curious about him and what he does. After all, you have followed the narrative so far, and perhaps you feel that your patience should be rewarded. You don’t actually know that much about him, do you? So, you ascertain, he lives somewhere and goes to work somewhere else via train; usually buys a newspaper if he is not too late, and enjoys his work. But who or what is he?
He could be as young or as old as you liked, might conceivably be malevolent in nature or benign, a successful or incompetent worker, brown eyed, green eyed, blue eyed and so forth. But what about his sexual orientation, what was his societal status? There is not much to go on. He is as you visualise him, but that was not what he entirely wanted. So here are a few cultural references to help you contextualise him, and so too create a clearer, if insubstantial, portrait.
His place was spacious and open plan, large arched windows letting in the sky. The wallpaper was blood red and embossed with Victoriana floral motifs. Hanging on the walls, prints from the Quattrocento mixed with early Picasso and originals by local artists. The dark polished floorboards were scuffed, and in each corner was a tall, free-standing speaker. Bookshelves ran underneath the windows, their diverse contents ranging from Socialist Philosophy and Law through to the collected works of both Shelleys. Another shelf boasted classic and contemporary fiction from a dozen cultures, world history and a large Atlas. Opposite the windows was a kit built cabinet that housed a television, video recorder and music system. Scattered on the floor were various videocassettes, CDs and records. Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo rested on top of a boxed set of Bergman films, and Rachmaninov lay down with Alexander Nevsky and Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 — all Deutsche Grammophon labels. A stack of Jazz records spilled out of a cardboard box, and a scratched copy of Tom Waits’ Swordfishtrombones gathered dust on the open turntable. The answer-phone contained two business messages and a call from his girlfriend — she’d just come back from abroad and could she come up to stay for a couple of days before returning to work? She had missed him. The bathroom floor was covered in bottle green tiles. A couple of framed certificates were on the wall, and a battered Stephen King novel was buried under various cleaning products. Inside the bedroom, a small bookcase sat on the dresser containing work by Eco, Borges, Barthes, Woolf and Banks. A music stand was positioned between the bed and window, and resting across its lip, a flute. Under the table lamp, a grey leather bookmark unevenly divided Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveller.
As he stared into the darkness of the yawning portal, he saw, or rather heard, something scurry inside. On the floor, halfway up the littered hall and at the foot of the stairs was the paperboy’s orange satchel. Newspapers had fallen out and were strewn around in piles. He stepped inside, and tentatively edging forward, realised that the papers were more shredded than strewn. A small asexual human form lay beyond the satchel, swaddled from head to foot in tabloids and broad sheets.
The door slammed shut and a shaft of light filtered in through the ill-fitting frame. He turned and ran, fists pounding at the ridiculous barrier. He looked behind and saw the papered figure start to move. A sickening shriek echoed throughout the building, followed by an outburst of deep guttural laughter.
He fell through and onto the pavement, his weight proving too great for the rusty hinge. Had he time to compose, he would have probably soiled himself. Potentially, he could have. Nonetheless, he did not have time — he never had — and could only moan as, rather predictably, he was dragged by his ankles back inside.
Now you are probably wondering what has happened to him, and the paperboy for that matter. Perhaps you are already formulating possible explanations and outcomes, sensing a pattern, solving the puzzle of this narrative. Does it involve hideous abuses or mutilation? Is it a contrived robbery heightened by his psychological fears into something more terrifying? Or could it be something as simple and as unbelievable as monsters living in a haunted house?
He found himself tied completely to a chair in a small, windowless room. A dim, naked light-bulb swayed slightly high above his head. The faded yellow wallpaper was damp and peeling, revealing ulcerous plasterwork beneath. The air was still and musty. To his left was an old table, and to his right a door. Sitting on the table was an archaic reel to reel tape recorder, complete with extension microphone. Ferrous streaks caked around corroded screw heads. Next to this was a pile of loose change, his wallet and keys. A dead beetle lay upturned by his feet, partially obscured by a dried apple core. The door opened outwards with a drawn out creak, and the Paper Boy shuffled in. Droning incoherently, it edged passed in a rustle of old news and flicked a switch on the machine. The plastic wheels began to spool and start the slow transference from one reel to the other. The Paper Boy picked up the microphone and started groaning at it. A bile of newspaper pulp dripped from his wrapped jaw and spattered on the floor. His tabloid collage head shook slightly as he turned to look at him with ink print eyes. In fact, the Paper Boy’s head seemed oddly misshapen.
Perhaps, he considered, it an attribute of the maché.
A shadow appeared on the opposite wall, and a gaunt, spectral figure drifted through the door.
“Sssssss.” hushed the shadow.
“Zzzzzzum.” droned the Paper Boy.
The spectre winnowed and distorted in the jaundiced light.
“I do apologise for this,” an ethereal digit pointed towards the strip of carpeting tape across his mouth. “But we couldn’t have you screaming and drawing unwanted attention. It would spoil everything.”
“Uouaauh! Mmmm! Mmmn!” he muffled through the gag, limbs thrashing against the not so secure knots of washing line. Disappointment crept over the spectre’s blurry features and it wafted a dismissive hand.
“Oh, I do hope you are not going to be too difficult,” it whispered in a pained voice.
“Allow me to introduce myself. I am usually considered Evil. My associate on the wall is Dropshadow, and you of course already know the Paper Boy.” Perhaps he sat still. There were at least no more struggling noises.
“Ah, good. Very sensible.” Evil exclaimed, and the tape rolled on.
Dropshadow pulled out from two dimensions and moved into three. The light seemed to be absorbed by the fuzzy silhouette.
“Splendid!” cried Evil. “Now,” it continued. “You are probably wondering what you are doing here. Well, that will become apparent soon enough. Firstly, though, we are going to murder you.”
“Mmm! Haueugh! Ieehgh!”
Frenzied scrabbling accompanied the sound of chair leg striking floor.
“Zzzzum?” asked the Paper Boy in an accompaniment of dry rustles.
“Yes, Paper Boy, I think that would be most fitting.” Evil laughed.
Did this particular scene compliment your prediction, or did it twist your expectation, subverting your sense of narrative progression? Perhaps you are bemused by the whole thing, and have only read on due to admirable tenacity.
By this stage, you will have realised that certain techniques have been employed which question the narrator’s reliability, due to the lack of truly substantial images. But the openness of the text is narrowing, and definite signs and signifiers, you will undoubtedly remember, began with the thumbnail sketch of his home. The other object of key significance at this point is of course the reel to reel tape recorder.
Now the writing is forced to comply with the recording, trapped by ambient sound and dialogue, more devices employed to control the text.
This is what happened:
Paper Boy scrunched behind the struggling form and picked up the coiled end of the washing line by his feet.
“Ssssss.” hissed Dropshadow.
“Quickly!” rasped Evil.
Paper Boy pulled the line tight around his neck, dribbling maché over his head with unfettered pleasure. Suddenly, in an explosion of sound, his right arm broke free and his fist smashed into Paper Boy’s head. His assailant crashed into the wall and crumpled to the floor.
“Get up you fool! We are powerless to stop him!” howled Evil as it vainly threw its insubstantial form through their victim.
“Sssss!” warned Dropshadow as the victim stood free from his bonds and ripped the tape from his mouth. Picking up the chair, he lifted it high above his head and brought it crashing down on the slowly rising Paper Boy. The bottom left leg caught the lower jaw and ripped into the irregular mass of newsprint.
“Zzzzzum!” raged Paper Boy as a mandible burst from its confines, soon followed by its right hand partner.
“Nooo!” cried the protagonist and hurled the chair at the approaching nightmare. Paper Boy stood back and began to unwrap the rest of its head. A vast multifaceted eye glared out, undoubtedly with baleful intent, black against the now uncovered yellow exoskeleton.
Wasp Head Paper Boy made a snicking sound with its upper jaws in an exaggerated chewing motion.
Evil laughed as he ran towards the door.
“There’s no point in prolonging the inevitable.” it screeched after him.
This is what really happened:
Paper Boy scrunched behind the struggling form and picked up the broken glass by his feet.
“Ssssss.” hissed Dropshadow.
“Quickly!” rasped Evil.
Paper Boy pressed the glass into his neck, dribbling maché over his head with unfettered pleasure. Suddenly, in an explosion of sound, his right arm broke free and his fist smashed into Paper Boy’s head. His assailant crashed into the wall and crumpled to the floor.
“Get up you fool! We are powerless to stop him!” howled Evil as it vainly threw its insubstantial form through their victim.
“Sssss!” warned Dropshadow as the victim struggled against his bonds, ripping the tape from his mouth. Rocking and throwing his weight into the chair, he brought it crashing down onto the floor. Supine, his legs thrashed helplessly in the air as he struggled to free himself.
Standing up, Paper Boy began to unwrap its head. Heavy mandibles opened and shut, and a vast multifaceted eye glared out with baleful intent, black against the uncovered yellow exoskeleton.
“Nooo!” cried the protagonist as Wasp Head Paper Boy drew nearer, making a snicking sound with its upper jaws in an exaggerated chewing motion.
Evil laughed, presumably as Wasp Head Paper Boy thrust the glass up against his throat.
“There’s no point in prolonging the inevitable.” it screeched hysterically.
At this point, the story could easily launch into a gratuitous graphic description of how his throat was sawed with the jagged glass and how the tiny shards splintered into his flesh. It would not be hard to imagine the blood spurting out in high pressure pulses as his jugular vein ripped open. You could visualise his agony, and then see the incredulous, fleeting embarrassment cross his face as his bladder and bowel emptied. Maybe he ejaculated uncontrollably in his underclothes — the ancient ape inside engendering one last pathetic attempt at genetic continuity. Possibly, it was his eyes that screamed louder than the mouth. You would not be too surprised if he vomited, essentially drowning before he bled to death. But this is open to interpretation and unnecessary. All you really need to know is that he died.
So what happens now? The protagonist has been hideously murdered at the hands of an impossible creature, and the narrative arrives at a designated point. Was he merely a device to bring you into a fantastic, horrific realm; could the story now broaden to include other characters? For example, you know that his girlfriend (the one on the answer-phone) has stated that she will be visiting soon. Now what would happen if she started to look for him? She could possess her own set of keys to his home, enter, and then await his return.
And she would wait, perhaps passing time by watching a classic film, or dancing with wanton abandon through the rooms to a soundtrack of Shostakovich and Tom Waits: a celebration of her self, her individuality, femininity, and love. She would eat, maybe prepare a meal, drink a little red wine.
And she would wait. Soon she would feel apprehensive, start to worry. Another woman? Impossible, yet . . . She would ring his work, and find it empty, the business closing several hours previously. Cursing her stupidity, she would ring the senior partner and find out that no, he did not turn up for work today, and if . . . The telephone would clatter to the floor, and the slamming front door would echo with her hurried departure. She would run through the streets — clack clack clack — in great emotional turmoil.
It would be at this juncture that the open front door in the derelict house would become apparent, the contrived coincidence of its position allowing for a multitude of possibilities.
But none of this occurs. It is, after all, his story.
He was extremely angry. Very dead, and extremely angry. He ranted ceaselessly, each vitriolic outburst causing the sliced flesh of his throat to quiver with a lip-like quality.
“I do wish you would be more sensible about this,” lamented Evil. “We know you are upset — that is understandable — but to go on and on at such length is quite unnecessary, and also quite irritating.”
“Ssssss.” agreed Dropshadow.
“Zzzum.” consoled Wasp Head Paper Boy, placing a packaged hand upon his shoulder.
“Oh, Paper Boy,” began Evil. “Could you possibly get another reel, the tape looks like it’s just about to run . . .”
” . . . are quite, quite real. You are not hallucinating. No, we are not a derivation of Jung’s archetypes. We exist, and you are truly dead. Why record this? To document of course. Nobody likes to be misquoted — and hard, physical evidence cannot be refuted . . . I see, most observant. We are impressed. Yes, you are quite correct, the noise that wasps make is caused by their wings in flight. So Paper Boy is a false symbol because of this observed error. Fascinating, but incorrect. Paper Boy is a corporeal manifestation created by you. He is your catalyst — We just allowed ourselves a little creative licence to make things more interesting. Staves off ennui. Paper Boy is a necessity that fulfils our wishes in the material plane. Now, if your transient attention had focused upon a cat, a window frame or piece of litter, that too would have eventually brought you into this situation. You have had no control since this whole thing began.”
The tape whispered slowly from one wheel to the other.
“I mean,” continued Evil. “Paper Boy had to kill you anyway. You gave rise to its present state — which admittedly takes some getting used to — and so, essentially it is a fair exchange. It had no say in its expiry and transmutation, as much as you were a silenced voice up to the point of your demise.”
“Ssssss.” said Dropshadow and stretched an arm out towards the wall until its fingers shaded the surface. The index finger moved from left to right in a swift, liquid, movement. Lines of text appeared on the wallpaper:
“Blood hath been shed ere now, i’th’ olden time,
Ere humane statute purged the gentle weal;
Ay, and since too, murders have been performed
Too terrible for the ear: the time has been,
That, when the brains were out, that man would die,
And there an end: but now they rise again . . .”
Macbeth 3. 4. 76
“Oh! Most poetic, Dropshadow, most poetic!” exclaimed Evil. “But do not be too impressed,” the spectre said aside, presumably to the freshly dead him. “Dropshadow is merely an avatar, a mouthpiece for the thoughts and words of others, an encyclopaedic entity incapable of formulating its own concepts. Its corpus — if you will excuse the ironic pun — documents the first meaningful scratches ever made on a cave wall right the way through to contemporary literary criticism. A useful tool, and one which was deemed as being suitable for this purpose.”
After a while, things calmed down. Perhaps ill at ease with his newly aquired unlife, he was nonetheless curious as to how and why he had been selected for this bizarre exercise, and patiently listened to Evil’s explanation.
Now that in itself is understandable, for if you found yourself cognitive after being murdered by supernatural beings, you too would conceivably seek answers, especially if they were being offered quite openly.
What is not so understandable is the plausibility of the narrative. Presuming that the reader will continue to suspend his/her her/his disbelief as things move from the ‘real’ into ‘fantastic’ (and vice versa) is a perfectly acceptable convention in writing, but to put such increasingly tenuous burdens upon you could be construed as alienating and unfair.
Perhaps it is at this point that you have decided that “enough is enough,” and will not read any further. On the other hand, you may feel that your perseverance will eventually be rewarded, and continue with dogged determination. Quite perversely, you may actually be enjoying this, and will continue reading out of pleasure.
As it happens (a further truth substantiated by the recording and the writing on the wall), Evil is about to embed the narrative a further level through the mode of authorial recollection:
“Once upon a time,” began Evil.
“Each change of narrative level in a recursive structure also involves a change of ontological level, a change of world . . . it is rather the epistemological dimension of this structure which is foregrounded, each narrative level functioning as a link in a chain of narrative transmission. Here recursive structures serve as a tool for exploring issues of narrative authority, reliability and unreliability, the circulation of knowledge, and so forth.”
— to paraphrase McHale
Wrote Dropshadow next to the previous quote.
“Most amusing,” rasped Evil. “Pehaps you’d care to elaborate upon the more difficult words there, before I continue,” The ironic nature of the challenge was ignored, either through lack of appreciation or bloody-mindedness, as Dropshadow rapidly performed his function underneath:
ontology /n. branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being. ontological /adj.
epistemology /n. philosophy of knowledge. epistemological /adj.
“This is my telling!” shrieked Evil. “I am the primary narrator. This is my oration. Kindly refrain from further interjection until I have finished, said my piece.”
Wasp Head Paper Boy droned appreciatively.
He sat up in the chair, perhaps adopting an attentive position.
“Once upon a time,” continued Evil. “The world was a place of ice and fire, a perpetually transforming un-place of energy. That, dear listeners, is what conceived Us. It was not until much later on that We began to take form and gain presence. In some senses, Our true existence started with Man. We are the embodiment of fear; all that is dark and unknown. We haunted ancient Babylon as three headed Dahak, vile Druaga and terrible Anshar. . .”
“Awful,” sighed he. “You sound like a bad pastiche of Bradbury.”
Evil continued, unfazed:
“We were Lilith, the Hebraic screech owl, a warning to travellers and curious children. We were the Great Serpent, Set, We were Moloch the Devourer. But time passes, and our significance either waxes or wanes with each generation. From the diabolic depths of demonification we soared up as vampires, and at other times clawed through the earth as the lowly Bogeyman. We are spirits and fiends, we exist through terrible action and are continually spawned and reborn in pages.
But now Our very existence is threatened. The fabric of Our myth is being slowly, but surely unravelled. You live in an increasingly secular age, and this has had ramifications in the other planes beyond mortality.
It all started with the concept of equality. For centuries We functioned in symbiosis with the few misplaced human thinkers who decided that neither good or bad place existed — and thus created their own intellectual reality.
This arrangement suited all, until one learned expounder argued that true egality lay in the grave, and that death was the one factor that truly united all humanity, a place where all mortal differences are finally dissolved.
And so the abstracted seeds of Necrotopia were sown.
From its experimental origins, Necrotopia started to expand, eventually engulfing all the good and bad places. This arrangement even suited the resolutes who clung to the mortal belief systems — after all, one man’s paradisiacal afterlife is another’s everlasting torture and vice versa — inadvertently propagating the Necrotopian vision.
The problem is that the dead no longer respect or believe in Us, the symbiosis has become dysfunctional. Without that belief, Our ethereal forms cease to exist and We are transmuted back into raw energy. The Necrotopian vision, although an operating egality amongst the human dead, actually marginalises Us. We are usurped. In fact, they are a spiritualist movement, condemning spectres and ghouls for their external individuality. The dead are so mundane. We thrive on fear and terror. We will not, cannot, conform.
Some, out of frustration even resorted to terrorism — but how can you terrify the well-informed and unimpressed recently dead? Our only hope lies in reasoned debate. We are a dwindling minority and demand representation. How can it truly be Necrotopia if We are here, a manifestation of dissatisfaction. We need your particular skills. We need you to act as Our voice, a voice that will be listened to. I implore you to do this service.”
Wasp Head Paper Boy clapped frantically.
“Zzzzum! Zzzzum!” it droned. “Zzzum! Zzzum!”
Dropshadow evidently stayed sulking and lurked in one of the corners.
“A beautiful and very moving speech,” stated the protagonist. “Most prosaic. But why on earth would I even consider helping you? You have removed my life, taken me from those I love — and that’s what hurts the most — and then naively expect me to fight your cause! It is outrageous!”
“Desperation forced Us to act out of necessity, and for that I am truly sorry,” apologised Evil. “And I can understand that you may of course despise us for years, but eventually you’ll put things into perspective. Although time is most certainly of the essence, We estimate that We have several decades in which to collate Our arguments and proposals.”
“That may be so,” he countered. “But how will she ever know how much I love her? Answer me that.”
“Well, I understand that in a situation like this you would probably consider a final coupling a very good idea. It could easily be arranged, but these things never turn out as you imagine they will. Experience has shown that she would resent you for her own untimely death. In fact, she would probably loathe you for all eternity. It would be an act of pure selfishness which would serve no end bar your own.”
He began to weep, feeding the great choking sobs that welled in his diaphragm with useless air. A very human reaction.
Time passed, and so the tape spooled on, recording.
The story could end here, full of inexplicable ambiguities that are never resolved, and a wealth of possibilities that are never explored. The penultimate sentence up to this point could even carry a definite sense of pathos if you wished, ending the tale with a melancholic and very final note. You could even alter or add to the text and effect the tone, turning the implied pathos into bathos. For example, if you return to the text three lines prior to the aforementioned penultimate sentence, you will see the following:
“. . . be an act of pure selfishness which would serve no end bar your own.”
To which you could add:
“. . . be an act of pure selfishness which would serve no end bar your own — no double entendre intended.”
However, that would not be true to the recording, which of course is the device that validates the dialogue, if nothing else. Besides, it would not have been in keeping with what he wanted.
Eventually, a compromise is reached, and Wasp Head Paper Boy is sent out, only to return brandishing an old black typewriter. Wherever it had gone there had been rain, causing its pulpy arms and fingers to partially disintegrate.
“You brought no paper you incompetent!” shouted Evil.
“Ththththth. Ththththth.” complained the soggy monstrosity.
“It’s okay. We can use this.” he said, rising from the chair and ripping off a piece of the yellow wallpaper.
“The color is repellent, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow strangely faded . . . It is a dull yet lurid orange in places, a sickly sulphur tint in others.”
Obliged Dropshadow, ever the opportunist.
Once inverted, the paper was duly fed through the pinch rollers and lined up.
“Don’t forget to set the margins,” cautioned Evil.
“Well, don’t look at me. It may be my story, but my role in it is limited.” he said. “Besides, the agreement is that you would account for my last days. “A testament,” you said, “To show your love how much you did, will, and still do.” As if I didn’t have enough to try and deal with at the moment.”
“You are right,” conceded Evil. “Paper Boy?”
Wasp Head Paper Boy sat down and began to type:
ewer hjad wqatchjerfdn hi,m fdoer asgres.
The soggy, ham-fisted finger typing was not acceptable (“This is no good! Where’s the artistry in this?” he seethed), and so drastic measures had to be taken.
“Desperation forces us to act out of necessity,” he reminded them.
Then the tape ran out.
For what must have been days they pondered the dilemma. Wasp Head Paper Boy dried slowly, its paper becoming maché and solidifying. He found this hysterical, and pointed out that Wasp Head Paper Boy’s further metamorphosis was indeed a transformation of text. Dropshadow covered the ceiling with suggestions — well researched, but quite inappropriate — and it was actually Evil that arrived at the conclusion. But, of course, you only have their word for it.
More reels were obtained, and the recording continued.
“What we need,” gasped Evil melodramatically. “Is a ghost writer.”
“But who?” he asked. “Who would be good enough to do this any justice? Who, more importantly, would be available?” he asked excitedly.
Dropshadow fervently filled the floor with possibilities, covering every conceivable space with ink.
“Interesting,” mused Evil. “But all quite useless. There is one, however, that springs to mind.”
“Who?” he asked.
“Szzkkuk?” crumbled Wasp Head Paper Boy.
Dropshadow didn’t say anything.
“A dead author.” It added, almost cryptically.
“But who?” he shouted. “Who? Stop playing games and tell us!”
“Don’t ever criticise or make passing observations so inexorably tiresome inside omniscient narration.” said Evil slowly, labouring over each word.
“That doesn’t even make proper sense! How utterly ridiculous!” he shouted. “Tell us who it is!”
“Szzzk!” enthused Wasp Head Paper Boy.
“Well,” began Evil. “If you examine my last sentence and take the first letter from each word, you have her name.”
“Oh, very clever.” he said sarcastically. “And how do you propose I examine your last sentence?”
“Perhaps you should rewind the recording.”
And they did. They spooled it back and scribed the name, writing it character by character on the table. Evil was undoubtedly gloating in the background.
Finding the place where they had left, they returned, and so the tape ran on.
“Decomposition. Is this some sort of bad joke?” he asked.
“Oh no,” assured Evil. “It’s a French surname. De Composition. A lovely, talented lady. Mme Étude De Composition. Certainly one of the foremost ghost writers of this century. It may take a while for her to reach this place.”
He hadn’t heard of her, he had said, but nonetheless sounded suitably impressed. Even Wasp Head Paper Boy joined Dropshadow’s silence.
“Will she do a good job?” he asked.
“Oh, the best,” chuckled Evil. “She’ll certainly improve upon our corporeal friend’s efforts.”
Time passed. The machine was switched off to save tape.
So, you may ask, who is this De Composition individual, and furthermore, what happens to him? Does he defend the diminishing realm of spirits against the swelling ranks of Necrotopia, or does he refuse, having lied all along. Maybe he decides to have his girlfriend join him anyway, despite all consequences — and who would record her account?
Who knows, these are stories yet to be written, or perhaps not at all.
The reels revolved slowly nearing the end. He sat in the chair. Dropshadow lay stretched across a wall. Wasp Head Paper Boy was piled in the corner, its usefulness nearly over. Evil floated around the light-bulb, humming listlessly.
The door opened outwards. A multitude of silhouetted figures stood in a multitude of doorways: fragmented reflections in a multifaceted eye.
“Good evening.” said a voice.
Then the tape ran out.
It was at this point, really, that I came in.