Chapter Eleven – Last Orders

20 Jul

After four more drinks, I heard a bell ringing by the bar and a shout of “last orders”. Looking up, I could see that it was only eleven. This wasn’t right, The Demon was usually open until about two at the earliest. Unless the jasmine tea had thrown me back in time too, something was really wrong with this place. Still, I drained my glass silently and left silently.

It was still raining outside and the streets were still as silent as an old movie. There wasn’t even a single car on the high street. I kept walking quickly, my jacket was already absolutely soaked. Despite the emptiness, the street still looked fairly normal and I could even recognise at least four out of every five shops. But, of course, the ones I didn’t recognise were just balls-out weird.

The strangest one was probably “Herr Klaviermeir’s Music Box”, which was standing where a charity shop used to be. It had a stark black and white mock Tudor wooden facade and the sign above the door was written in mock gothic script. A crooked clarinet leant against the front window, encircled by pairs of twitching cymbals. As I leant closer, the whole shop came to life. The lights flickered on and the instruments started clattering around madly. I almost leapt into the road.

I blinked and looked again, but the instruments were still moving and I could see a silhouette against the door. I heard the lock click. I ran.

By the time I got to my front door, I was absolutely breathless. Resting against the wall and wiping the water from my face, I looked out at the roundabout opposite the house. Under the amber streetlights and the sheets of rain, the flowers in the middle of it looked wilted and dead. Well, at least they weren’t moving. I could still hear the faint clashing of cymbals over the rain.

As the rain picked up, I reached for my key and turned it in the lock before turning the slippery handle. In the gloom, I could just about see that the hallway was completely devoid of playing cards. I guess that they’d found somewhere else to terrorise. Maybe they were roaming the countryside in a large cloud, gobbling up the occasional sheep and inspiring countless ghost stories and UFO sightings? Well, wherever they were, I was glad that they were gone.

The kitchen still looked as chaotic as usual as I dug a microwave meal out of the freezer, stabbed it a couple of times with a fork and threw it in the microwave. It would be done in seven minutes. I slumped on one of the wine-stained sofas in the lounge and just stared at the old posters which were still clinging to the walls. There was one of Bettie Page posing in a swimsuit and winking at the camera – Rachel had got it cheap at the fresher’s fayre at the start of term and even I had to admit that it added a certain vintage glamour to the lounge. Or it would have done if she hadn’t drunkenly drawn a curly moustache on it halfway through our Halloween house party.

James Dean had fared little better and he stood on his poster boldy staring out at the room through a marker pen monocle and the brim of a top hat. For a second, I thought about finishing Rachel’s work and defacing the other poster left on the wall to pass the time while my microwave meal was cooking. It was one for “A Clockwork Orange” and, in all honesty, it just looked too bizarre to really deface properly anyway.

With a quiet ping my meal was done. It was watery sweet and sour chicken with limp boiled rice. I ate it in silence, occasionally looking at the rain spattering the lounge windows. Afterwards, I turned on the TV, but there was static on every channel apart from two of the shopping channels. I couldn’t help but wonder whether I’d died after drinking the jasmine tea and had been sent straight to hell for my multitude of inconsequential sins. But, I didn’t really believe in any of that stuff.

Plus, if I was in hell – then they probably wouldn’t have vodka, coffee or Chinese food. No, I thought, I might be tired as hell but I’m nowhere near hell itself. And, with that reassuring thought, I went to bed.

Unsurprisingly, I started dreaming.

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