Be careful what you wish for.
|He had been Bimbo for so long that he had forgotten his official name, the one that had been on his passport, when he had been a traveller. In those days, he thought, he had lived in a big house, with trees in the garden. Maybe apple trees. It was about there that the memories hit a black smoke so he would ask for change and retreat into the day, rain or shine.
He had laid claim to a good pitch, outside a supermarket, next to an ATM. People would give him sandwiches, chocolate bars and the odd fiver. Mostly they stepped by, some would shake their heads in apology or pity. He could judge wealth by the shoes, if they were old and looked after, he would say, 'Got any change, guvnor?' That was usually worth a quid. He didn't bother with the scruffy, they were the apologizers. The well heeled ignored him completely.
At night, if he did not have enough for a bed in St Mungo's hostel, he would creep his way under a bridge or at the back of the boathouses. The worst place was the park. There was always someone waiting to use fists and feet, just for fun. If he was desperate he put himself in harm's way. A couple of days in hospital meant warmth, food and a tiny bit of sympathy.
It had been a wet, blustery day, golden leaves swirling in the gutter were a false promise of treasure. He huddled in his doorway, his legs wet and cold and wondered if it was September or October. Not that it mattered. It was cold. It was getting dark. The Salvation Army's soup van would be open soon. If he was quick, he might get a free bed.
Wrong day or wrong place. Bimbo vacantly stared at an empty, cobbled courtyard. It looked almost right. The old bike rack on the left, a small door on the right. He had not noticed the door before, it would have been behind the soup van, if it were there. A door in a secluded place was always worth a try. He shuffled over to it and twisted the knob. It swung open.
A musty odour of old things crept out, riding on a cold draugh, issuing from a dimly lit corridor. The sort of place where bats lived. He hated bats. There was no grey flicker of wings, he hesitated. Rain dropped in a staccato roll of bursting drops. Bimbo stepped over the threshold. Sensors flicked on fluorescent lights. A corridor stretched ahead, green painted until waist height, institutional magnolia above. There were white doors at regular intervals, each with a label screwed on. He peered at them. Each was a historical period. He was in the museum's archives.
The door behind him shut with a soft click. He tried the inside knob. It had automatically locked. He could see no way of unlocking it. Not that it mattered. The museum was dry, warmer than outside and probably had things he could put in his pockets and fence on later.
He scuttled down the corridor, stopping once to clear his lungs. The hacking cough echoed, freezing him briefly. His head swivelled. No one came. Was that a security camera? He had to get out of view. He tried a door. Locked. And the next. Locked. And the next. And the next. It swung open under his touch. Ducking through, he waited for the lights to come on. The door clicked shut behind him, darkness swirled up, engulfing him.
There had to be a light switch, if he opened the door a crack, he could find it. He found the door handle. It refused to move. He ran his hands over the wall at shoulder height, it was cold, greasy rough with cheap paint. Not this side. He tried the other. A raised tile. A switch. He flicked it. Nothing. His eyes were adjusting to the gloom, there were vague shapes, boxes and... Things. Was that a desk? There would be a lamp on it. Arms outstretched, he shuffled towards it.
A noise. A loud click. He spun. The door was still closed. Tick. A clock? Tock. He moved his head, trying to identify the source. Old clocks were worth a bob or two. Tick. Over there? Tock. Behind him? He turned. Tick. Still behind him. No matter how he turned, each sound of the mechanism came from a new direction. Tock. In the corner of his eye a flicker trapped his attention.
An automatic light had, at last, glowed into life. It was an odd green, an LED probably. He moved towards it, skirting crates, stenciled with foreign words and numbers. Tick. Tock. The light was inside an urn. Tick. Tock. Tick. It made the whole artifact glow. As if it were radioactive. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. The illumination pulsed in time with a metronome, its pendulum swinging from side to side like a warning finger. Ticketty tick.Ticketty tick. Ticketty tick. Bimbo's brain soup slopped and a fact surfaced. Metronomes had a mechanical regularity. They did not sound like heartbeats.
It did not matter. It was small enough to fit in a pocket. He could sell it and buy an hour of chemical bliss. He reached out, stopping the pendulum. Intense darkness shuttered down. Reaching out to steady himself, his hand brushed against the urn. In the silence, the noise of it wobbling was loud. The crash as it hit the floor and shattered deafened him. Lurching backwards, he tripped. He fell.
Swimming to the surface of consciousness was familiar. Seeing someone bending over him was not unusual. Someone who glowed radioactive green was - odd. Had he, Bimbo, taken any pills? He did not think so. He had a sense of reality. His head hurt where he had hit it.
'I will trade my heartbeat for your deepest wish.' The being spoke without moving its lips. Its eyes, black holes that went into infinity pointed at Bimbo's pocket. The metronome was fluttering. Bimbo rested his hand on it. What did he want most in the world?
'Money.' It came out as a wheedling croak. 'Lots of it.' He tugged the device out and let the pendulum swing free. Ticketty tocketty ticketty tocketty. Tick t tock. Tock t tick. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. The blackness poured out of the creature's eyes and Bimbo drowned.
He stood in front of his old house. The lounge was brightly lit. His daughter was laughing as she played with Abbi, her mother. His wife. They were building brick towers and knocking them down. It was late. They were ready for bed. Ready for daddy to come home with hugs and kisses. Bimbo laughed with them. Then stopped, mid chuckle. He remembered.
'I have granted your deepest wish.' That voice slimed into his mind. 'You see them again, living.' Did it laugh too?
Bimbo saw his car screech into the drive. He saw a man, thick with anger and betrayal stumble to the door.
'No!' He tried to shout a warning on ears that were stoppered by hate.
The black smoke in his mind thinned. It shredded. It no longer blocked the shouting. It no longer hid the violence. It no longer hid the stillness. It let the screams echo. It tugged the man he had been into the darkness and the long years of bleak nothingness.
He had been granted his deepest wish and, even more deeply, wished that it had not been granted.