The lunchtime crowds of office workers headed hurriedly between Ludgate Circus and the business enclave of Canon Street, staring into their mobile phones as they walked, or cramming sandwiches into their mouths from one of the over-priced local deli-cafés. As I watched the throng, I wondered with a stab of uncertainty whether a bench in St Paul’s Church Yard was the best place to be doing this. It was one of those late summer afternoons in the capital that seem to remain grey and dismal, yet still manage to make you feel hot and sweaty. It’s as if the concrete and stone around you absorbed the heat and deliberately trapped it in order to punish you for the temerity to walk its fabled streets. But I’d arranged a meeting here – one that I wasn’t even sure would actually take place.
This potential adventure began several weeks ago when I received an email from someone at ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ and going by the name of El Dredd. It wasn’t a particularly clever pseudonym but it did pique my authorial narcissism by virtue of the fact that both the name and the address were clear references to my one and only novel. They wanted to meet up in London – near the City – to discuss something important.
To my mind, sure this must have been from a really devoted fan, to have gone to the effort of setting up an email address with a domain named after my book. That or I was dealing with a cyber-stalker. But either way my curiosity had got the better of me. I’d had the presence of mind to reply with a cautious acceptance and a request for some indication of how I might recognise my ‘fan’. Thus far, I had received no reply to my email, but here I was at five minutes to the suggested time on the day, staring about me and attempting to discern who I was to meet.
As the character in my novel had been a male, I assumed that I would indeed be meeting one. It crossed my mind that this could in fact have been a red herring and that the leggy brunette seated on the low wall a few feet away could in fact have been about to jump up and offer an enthusiastic handshake, gushing praise and an offer of frantic no-strings-attached carnality out of the sort of misplaced fanatic fervour found in the tabloids. But, as I cast a cautious gaze in her direction, our eyes met and she regarded me with such a look of disdain that I was quickly disabused of any notions of anything arousing and sweaty occurring. After establishing her lack of interest in my direction, she looked down at her phone, drained the last of her mineral water and tossed the bottle onto the ground. With that she swept away in what seemed like slow motion like someone in a shampoo advert on TV, her hair in shining tendrils, wrapping itself about her before bouncing perfectly back into place about her shoulders.
“No, you’ve got the wrong one there!” came a quiet and distinctly male voice in close proximity.
I spun to face the sound, trying to make it seem as if I hadn’t both jumped out of my skin and soiled my trousers in shock. I believe my exact words were something like, “Pardon…wassat, heh, shityouscaredme!” in one garbled ejaculation that spilled out as I leapt to my feet. A hand reached toward me and I found myself involuntarily shaking it as I took in the face of my visitor.
It was indeed Eldredd.
Eldredd couldn’t have been here though – he was one of the main characters in my book – a demon who had spent much of the story disguised as a woman. But here he was in more traditional form in all his horny and ebony magnificence, his grinning gold eyes searching mine and his lips stretched in amusement.
What made matters more unsettling was that he was naked and his grotesquely over-sized penis hung down like a third leg resting on the bench. This was a detail that I just hadn’t explored in my writing – a bit of colour that I’d not considered necessary – but everything else about him was just as I’d first imagined in my description of him.
“Please sit down. A shock is so much better absorbed with the knees bent…” he recited the quotation with a grin. He was quoting Lord Summerisle from the movie, The Wicker Man – a fact which he knew I knew and which added some menace to his request. In compliance, I sank back onto the bench, trying to stay calm and not notice his impressively unsettling manhood (or demonhood). But I couldn’t help peeking – it reminded me of an old-fashioned police truncheon; as if he might take it up at any moment and beat me about the head with it.
Glancing about to see if anyone else had noticed him, I saw that the brunette hadn’t gone far and was still moving in slow motion toward the pavement where the cars and other pedestrians had also slowed down. A taxi driver had used his horn to protest against a barely moving cyclist, its normally shrill beeping sound was now stretched into a deep moan against the even lower hum of the traffic. On the other side of the road, two businessmen were sluggishly doing the ‘oops, I’m sorry!’ dance, trying to pass each other while continually stepping into each other’s path, each with an embarrassed grin written into their faces. And on the ledge above the ornate double-doors of the office building across the way, a pigeon was lethargically shitting and it looked to be aimed at the head of the postman sluggishly pushing a large envelope through the letter box below.
Everything moved at a snail’s pace except for Eldredd and me.
Summoning up the words from the dryness of my throat, I found the wherewithal to whisper a question.
“So what did you think of the ending of the book?” This was a bluff and an attempt at humour to both buy me time while I figured out exactly what was happening and to impart some impression of confidence.
If it were possible for that gruesome mouth to grin any wider, then that’s what it did. Eldredd (I’d decided that it was him), stretch his maw to such a degree that it looked like it could admit a small child in one go. I’d not remembered the huge amount nor sharpness of his teeth in my imagination either – perhaps he had filled in the details himself or was this my unconscious mind at work?
“Well”, he began, “You were certainly kinder to me than you were to so some…”
“Yes, well, I quite liked you as a character. Much more than Sinn anyway – I got a bit carried away with him – that huge mouth and the eyes and everything. No wonder no one has approached me about the film rights. I mean, how would you even start to go about reproducing him on screen?”
Eldredd shrugged. “It’s all CGI these days isn’t it? I’m sure they’d find a way.”
“I suppose so. I just feel sorry for all the actors walking around sound stages draped in green cloth, rather than all those amazing sets that they used to build for the classic movies.”
“Gape is definitely a green-screen type of book though – if you don’t mind me saying…”
“In what way?” I’d just started to relax slightly, but this remark set me on edge again.
“Well, there’s nothing really substantial there is there? It’s all two-dimensional characterisations, tired tropes and third-rate faux-philosophical musings. It’s as if you couldn’t make up your mind what you were writing!”
“I spent months on that book – you try writing one!”
This made him chuckle malevolently.
“I’m a demon – you’re the ‘author’.”
What really troubled me here was that he didn’t even need to do the speech-mark-fingers-thing in the air. I could see them right before my eyes as he spoke, the words scrolled before me in a manner that stretched the tortured nature of our metafictional conversation to the limit.
Bristling at the perceived insult and the fact that this whole thing was apparently just a product of my restless imagination, I decided to play along. I felt as if I was in the back of a car, being driven to an unknown terminus and unable to stop and get out. I’d just see how this was going to play out and try not to get travel sick on the way.
“You seem to be your own author now. Where are we going with this? Why are you here?”
Eldredd turned himself to face me, his huge cock now pointing at me in accusation.
“Well, we – that is Sinn and I – want a sequel. We just need to know how things pan out for everyone. Is that too much to ask for?”
“Why not make your own. You’ve got this far and taken on a life of your own – do your own thing and leave me out of it.”
“It doesn’t work that way, Aiden. We exist because you brought us into existence. We’re in limbo now – and that’s far worse that Hell, as you well know. Literary limbo is the saddest place of all. It’s littered with characters who didn’t quite make it. And worse, it’s also populated with those who did. Those who went on to the heights, became household names and then never did anything else. I had supper last night with Harry Potter, Little Nell, and Leopold Bloom and Harry Flashman was dining with Nancy Drew and some sort of pink blobby children’s book character at the table next to us. It was a dismal affair. Even the ones who have recently been resurrected by other authors weren’t happy. James Bond keeps trying to off himself with his Walther PPK, Lizzie Bennett drowned herself in that lake that Mr Darcy famously climbed out of, and Peter Pan decided to come out of the closet and to set up home with Luis Carruthers in the hope that the endless sodomy would relieve the boredom. It didn’t and the last anyone saw of him, he’d taken to stalking and raping the Seven Dwarfs at random. Suffice to say that Happy is no longer smiling, Sleepy hasn’t had any shut-eye in months, and Doc spends much of his time in the emergency room having his arse stitched up.”
“Wow, that really was a long rant. I don’t usually write such long monologues…”
“You see how bad it is?”
Eldredd spread his black hands in an expansive, pleading gesture.
“So you want me to write a sequel… is that what you’re asking?”
“Exactly,” nodded the demon. “But not to continue the story – at least not for me. I want to die in the first chapter. I’ve had enough of it all. I don’t want to be dragged into your neuroses anymore.”
“Your hatred of religion, your fear of family, your issues with abuse. How dare you vomit this stuff out on to the page and expect a bunch of barely believable fantasy characters to cope with your hang-ups?”
“But that’s what writing is about isn’t it – it’s sublimation!”
“In the hands of a proper writer it is. Jonathan Franzen would have written a better Gape than you. Of course it would have been more of a family affair – with a soupcon of postmodern philosophy thrown in – but he could have done it well.”
I should have been deflated at this revelation. I mean, I’d been kidding myself that I’d written a comedic fantasy, when in fact I’d invited everyone into the darker side of my psyche. And it had taken one of my own characters to deliver the revelation.
This was of course ‘writing 101’. But I’d been kidding myself that I was different and that I’d written something pure and unsullied by pretence and artifice. Why couldn’t fiction just be written to provide a good story?
I turned away from my disturbing companion and peered through misting eyes at my shoes. He was right. He was right and I was a fraud playing at the game of authors.
“Alright, I’ll do it. I’ll write the sequel. I’ll write the sequel and kill you off in the first chapter. Any particular method you’d prefer?”
I sat up and turned back to see the space next to me now empty of the demon and his colossal cock, and I felt relieved. With that release came the sound of the traffic returning to its normal speed.
Nearby, the stunning brunette finally walked out of my life. Across the road, the two businessmen walked smack bang into each other with a noisy “Sorry!” And the postman finally posted his envelope just as the latest of the many ignominies that entailed his job befell him and the pigeon shit hit the back of his neck.
Well, I had a demon to kill.