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UKArchive ID: 8869The incomplete circle of life by thegeeza
Originally published on October 4, 2004 in Fiction

(2,472 words)






John’s head nodded twice and his eyes opened. Looking through misted eyes he saw white figures sitting in a row. He thought he was dead. He thought it was a panel of angels.



To his left and right more blurred images, all still. He was wearing a white gown. He was an angel.



His last memory was sitting in an armchair, shaking and sweating, his family crowding around, too close, drawing the air from him. His chest rising and falling – it just couldn’t rise high enough.



Now he was dead, sitting in a room with angels. He wanted to talk but he had no strength. He didn’t panic, he couldn’t feel anything at all – he was just happy to sit, watching the blurred images from the corner of his eyes.



A dark shape moved from the right, darting from one cloudy image to another, making noise that made John feel nauseous. It penetrated the pit of his stomach and made him want to scream, but he couldn’t. Terror washed over him, but he could do nothing.



The figure grabbed at him, its shadow covering John’s face; the rumbling noise resonating inside his head, washing the contents of his gut around his insides in poisonous waves. Its damp breath burned into John’s face. He could smell garlic. It was something John could hold on to, something from the world of humanity. He concentrated, trying to pin down its definition, its origin. The shadow withdrew, but John wanted it back, he wanted the familiarity of something.



It flitted and darted around, but John could not hold it in his vision. It disappeared.



Nothing moved. The light burned down relentlessly. He tried to speak, to move. From the depths, he pushed a sound up his throat, through his mouth and nose. It was low and it grew; he pushed harder. The shadow returned, its noise twisting around his head, spinning him in circles. He closed his eyes to it, but it would not go away. Something gave way, like his insides had been flushed away. The image of a grotty, white toilet came into his mind. It was old-fashioned with a rusty chain hanging down. The bowl was splattered with dirt and the water had long since gone, leaving a brown tide mark. It smelled of garlic.



The voice reared up at him. He opened his eyes to see streaks of its blackness flashing at him relentlessly. Each flash rocked John’s vision. He tried to stop the noise he was making but it kept coming. More blackness came from the side and his field of vision span and he looked up and the thin strips of light blinded him and the black shapes weighed down on him and all the while, the angels did not help.







In the dream he saw his daughter’s face. But it wasn’t his daughter because the face was too old. It was asking him how he was. He wanted to answer but his mouth had gone, so she went away.







Two faces looked down at him. One had round glasses on. “Do you think he can hear us?” the man with glasses said. The other said, “hello?” He said it again, more loudly, but John still had no mouth. They left him.







When he opened his eyes, he saw the angels. He squeezed his eyelids together and the mist started to clear. Something made a noise and clouds started to roll across his field of vision again; he kept concentrating, willing the shapes to come into focus. They were old people, sitting in gowns. He thought they were dead. He could not understand why he was sitting in a room full of dead people. He tried to move and was afraid to speak. He looked at each one. They looked different, but they were all the same: old people, in gowns, sitting and looking forward with no expressions on their faces.



‘John?’ said a voice.



He couldn’t see where it came from, then it filled his whole world. Big brown eyes and a long nose. The face licked its lips slowly. He could smell garlic.



‘How are you feeling, John?’



John felt panic, when he thought to try and answer.



‘Good, John. Good.’



It disappeared, but he heard it speak: ‘I think John is lucid, Miss Jones.’



Two faces appeared, just in front of him. He blinked at them.



‘There, there, John. I’m glad you’ve made it through to us. What we’re going to do is move you in to sit with the others.’



Two men in white coats brought a wheelchair and lifted John into it. He found he could move his head. None of the other old people moved their heads or noticed he was going. They turned the wheelchair towards a set of double doors and rammed it.



John scanned the huge room. It was the size of four football pitches. There were thousands upon thousands of rows of people facing a giant screen. Each wore a white gown. Most had no hair or dishevelled tufts of grey/white; John could see no faces as they wheeled him towards the screen. He turned to look, but one of the men pushing him slapped his head to make him face forward. He lifted his eyes: the ceiling was very high and the huge room was not a room, but it was a giant cavern.



On the screen was a man and a woman. They were laughing and talking, but John couldn’t pick out their words against the sound of the chair rolling, or the blood raging through his ears. The woman had on a flowery dress and the middle-aged man was quite presentable in a smart suit. He blinked at the image again: it was Fern Britain and Philip Schofield from daytime television.



Somewhere near the middle they stopped and dragged him out of the wheelchair. His legs gave some resistance, but he could not stand. They dropped him into a seat and wheeled the chair away. No one spoke or looked at him.



He watched the backs of the heads lined up in front of him. They looked like rows of boiled eggs, ready to be smashed open. The reflection from the screen danced across the tops of these domes and their saggy skin coverings. The sound from the speakers was so loud that it was hard to differentiate one word from another. He turned to his left. The man’s eyes moved to look at John, well ahead of the turn of his near-visible skull. A few strands of hair hung long over his face. The grey skin looped down from the lip of each eye socket, showing a patch of bloodshot flesh.



‘What is your name?’ the man said slowly. John was too frightened to try to speak. ‘Tell me your name,’ he repeated.



‘John.’ The clarity of his own voice surprised him.



‘John,’ said the man. A thick wedge of skin slowly moved across his blue eyes, dragging gooey fluid behind it . The man continued to look, but said no more.



‘Where am I?’ said John.



‘John,’ said the man.



John waited, but nothing more came. ‘Where am I?’



The man blinked again and opened his mouth, but closed it without speaking.



‘You’re in the television room,’ said the man to John’s right.



‘The television room?’ said John.



The man nodded. He was black and very thin. His eyes were as yellow as his teeth. ‘The television room. We watch television in here.’



‘But where is this?’



‘I just told you … the television room. We watch television in here.’



‘John,’ said the other man. He turned to him, but he was just watching, blinking.



‘The television room – but where? Which building?’



‘Watch television,’ said the man, turning to the screen. ‘It’s the television room. Watch Fern.’



John looked around, but he could only see rows of faces staring up at the screen. He got half way to standing, but collapsed back into his chair.



‘Ssssh!’ said the black man. ‘Watch the television. It’s the television room.’



‘I know it’s the television room,’ hissed John. ‘How do you get out of the television room? That’s what I want to know.’



‘Ssssh … watch Fern.’



A man in a white coat appeared.



‘Thank God,’ said John. ‘Where am I?’



‘Hey, old timer. You’re causing a disturbance.’ He pulled something from his pocket.



‘I just want to know where I am. Where is this place?’ he said.



The man ignored him and held up a hypodermic.



‘What’s that?’ said John.



The man pulled up the sleeve on John’s gown and stabbed the needle into his arm with one quick movement.



‘I just want to … know.’







John opened his eyes. He was laying down. It was dark. He wriggled against the taut sheet and managed to partly sit up. For as far as he could see, there were beds, thousands of beds, lined up in neat rows. He was thirsty and licked his lips. He tried to turn, to look around.



‘Are you causing trouble again, old man?’ said a voice. John could see an upside-down face.



‘I was just …’



The dark brown eyes disappeared, and he saw the flash of a needle. Liquid squirted upwards, catching a glint of light in its long arc. The sheet was pulled back and his arm held by a strong hand. He felt a jab and a cold sensation spreading into his body.







He heard voices, but kept his eyes closed.



‘This one relapsed. He’s fighting it.’



‘Oh dear.’



‘We moved him on, but we had to bring him back.’



‘Oh dear.’



‘Sometimes it happens. They don’t seem to let themselves go.’



‘What dose?’



‘Fifty.’



‘Try seventy. See how it goes.’



John waited, before carefully opening his eyes. The two men looked like doctors and had moved to the bed opposite; they had clipboards in their hands. He watched them walk from bed to bed until they disappeared, their voices drifting just behind. He thought he must be in an old people’s home, or maybe he was dreaming. He tried to remember sitting in the chair with his family around him, but it was blank.



John kicked at the sheet and was surprised at his strength. He swung his feet down to the cold floor and stood up slowly. He gently let go of the bed and let the dizziness clear. He was near a door. He shuffled towards it, gaining strength and confidence with each pigeon step. He was scared to look behind, as he was sure someone in a white coat would be striding along the aisles, ready to stab him back to sleep. He took the handle and pulled. The door made a sucking noise, and gave way. He peeked into the corridor: the floor was shiny and a grey/green colour. He opened the door so that he could fit into the gap and waited. Still no one came. He stepped onto the slippery floor and felt the smoothness with his toes. He wanted to find a telephone, so he could call his daughter – she could explain. The corridor stretched into the distance, both ways, doors spaced evenly as far as he could see.



He walked a few paces and stopped at the sound of voices. He pulled open a door and stepped inside. There were eight old people sitting looking at one another. He called out a greeting, but they did not answer or move. He stopped by the door and tried to guess when the people might have walked past. He opened the door and moved into the corridor. In the distance two white-coats walked away from him, mumbling to one another.



John inched his way after the figures, watching them get ever smaller. Each door looked the same. He looked back and it seemed he wasn’t getting anywhere at all. After a time, the two white-coats merged into the background and were gone. He came to a set of double doors and peered through one of the windows into a small room; inside, there appeared to be a lift. He went in and stood at the silver door. The number at the top of the lift was “2004”. He shook his head. He pressed the button and the doors opened. He stepped into the lift and looked at the display.



The big button at the bottom read “G”, the top button read “D”. Between were numbers zero through nine. The small sign read: “Key floor number and press ”. He jabbed at “G” and looked at the display above the door. The door closed and he could feel the lift falling. It rapidly counted down towards zero, then lit up “G”. The doors opened to a dark corridor.



He stepped out, and the doors closed. He moved slowly forwards into the darkness. The light faded to black. He had to put his hands in front of him. He froze when he heard a sound. It sounded like walking. He scanned the darkness but could see nothing. Something struck him across the head and he fell.



‘Turn the light on!’ shouted a voice. Blinded by the light, he covered his eyes. He looked at the man standing above him. ‘How did you get down here? Gabrielle? How did this one get down here? Gabrielle!’



‘Where am I?’ said John. ‘Who are you?’



‘What are you doing here?’



‘I’m trying to get out. I want to go home.’



The man cocked his head. ‘Interesting,’ he said. ‘Gabrielle!’



‘There are lots of old people upstairs. Is this an old people’s home? Is this the ground floor?’



‘The ground floor?’ said the man. ‘No.’



‘But it said “G” in the lift and it was the bottom button.’



‘This is the boss’ floor. There’s no way out down here.’



‘Down?’ said John.



‘The top floor is “D” … for door.’



John looked at the man, then nodded. ‘Thank-you,’ he said, standing up.



‘Where do you think you’re going?’ said the man.



‘I’m going up to “D” … for door. I’m going home.’



‘I don’t think so,’ said the man.



Two men grabbed John from behind, and started to pull him away.



‘Where am I?’ shouted John. ‘I want to speak to my daughter!’



‘You’re going nowhere, old man,’ said one of the men, pulling him into the lift.



‘I want to speak to my daughter!’ shouted John.



‘Dead men don’t talk!’ shouted the man.







The football bounced off the wet pavement and hit the light blue shutters with a crash. It had started to rain again and the boy looked up and wondered if his mother would call him in. He took careful aim, and tried to get the ball to hit the middle of the large white-painted “D” that had almost disappeared under the graffiti. He missed.




© thegeeza (thegeeza on OLD UKA)
UKArchive ID: 8869
Archived comments for The incomplete circle of life
shadow on 2004-10-04 11:12:05
Re: The incomplete circle of life
That is one scary story! I like the way nothing is explained, you have to make up your own mind what it is all about. One small point - near the end you have 'shouted' three times within four lines - too much shouting!

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-10-05 02:24:07
Re: The incomplete circle of life
Thanks, Shadow ... I'll check out the shouting!

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 2004-10-05 05:00:28
Re: The incomplete circle of life
whether that's old age or the afterlife, it looks pretty awful. Some good parallels drawn here, and done with your usual clear style that draws the reader in. I very much liked the final cutaway to the boy playing football, and the perpective that puts on it.

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-10-05 07:23:49
Re: The incomplete circle of life
Thanks, BP. I was worried the last bit was a bit "short film" styley, and asked too much of the reader - although I liked it - I could imagine some ppl thinking "what's that all about?".


Author's Reply:

KDR on 2004-10-07 09:45:05
Re: The incomplete circle of life
What's that all about? lol!

I think this works pretty well. I don't generally like stories that aren't clear: if I wanted to make my own mind up, I'd write it myself. But it was actually entertaining, trying to decide whether John had actually died or was just in an old folks' home. I suppose if they are sent there after suffering a stroke or heart attack, it must be bewildering to suddenly be surrounded by unfamilar things and have no decisions of your own to make.

I thought the idea of having 'G' as 'the boss' floor' kind of gave it away. Up until then, it was very unclear.

But back to the 'what was that about?' thing...just what was the relevance of the boy with the football? 8-/

K

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-10-09 07:25:51
Re: The incomplete circle of life
What's it all about? Well, that's up to you to decide! Is he dead, and this is a nightmarish after-life, or is he in some sort of hospital? For him, maybe there's no difference.
I like the reader to think for him/herself, I like to write things where you do have to make up your own mind. (Otherwise you end up writing things like Harry Potter).
The boy with the football? That's life continuing onwards, despite the horror just below, out of sight.
Thanks for reading, Karl, as always.
Steve.


Author's Reply:

deepoceanfish2 on 2004-10-10 09:57:32
Re: The incomplete circle of life
TheGeeza,

Surreal and chilling. I love a good thought provoking chiller. Good read. Why hasn't this been rated ? Write more.

Regards,
Adele 🙂

Author's Reply:

TheGeeza on 2004-10-10 10:01:33
Re: The incomplete circle of life
Thanks, Adele - glad you liked it.
There's plenty of stuff I've posted previously!
Thanks for reading.
Steve.

Author's Reply: