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Friday 10 July 2020

Tales From The Village

    It was a warm pleasant day, the sun was shining, there was a slight breeze and citizens in the village went about their daily lives as usual. And those who were not otherwise occupied promenaded themselves in the Piazza, while others amused themselves by playing Croquet on the village green. No.36, an old woman with a blue rinse, emerged from the general store clutching a bag of sweets. It was midday when the brass band began their concert with music drifting on the breeze.
    No.256 wasn’t doing anything much at all he simply wandered about the village wondering what to do next. He didn’t like it in the village, and as far as he could see he had committed no crime, if chucking up your job is a crime then he was guilty of that but no more than that. No.2 is a very charming woman, but she persists with her questions, “Why did you resign?....tell me why…did…you…resign obviously you have no loyalty towards your previous colleagues so where is the danger?” I could not tell her where the danger is, but I had a fair idea, she wanted me to tell her about the department I worked for, of my colleagues, the people I had met, and of the files that had passed across my desk. The worst thing is, it will not be long before I tell her.
   No.256 was of medium height, dark hair, a well set man who had once upon a time held a high position within the department. He was not a man in the field, he was a desk jockey. He collated, he administered, it was his job to send men into the field, mostly behind the Iron Curtain. But he was not a man without imagination, and was capable of thinking in broad concepts. The brass band was still playing, “The Awkward Squad” as he returned to his cottage.
    The housemaid was humming a tune as he entered his cottage, she was busy flicking a feather duster about the lounge.
    “You seem happy in your work” he said closing the door.
    The young woman paused in her work and turned to face him, the black badge pinned to her white frilly apron displayed the white number 42, she smiled at him, “That’s because I am” she said.
    “What’s that?”
    “Oh that’s your lunch, a ham salad, there’s a bottle of pale ale.”
    “No, that” he said pointing to the thing on the coffee table.
    “I don’t know, it was here when I arrived” she told him.
    The doll was naked13 inch tall and made out of wood, as its name “Peg Wooden” would suggest. Its face and chest and jointed arms and legs were painted pink, with white lower arms and legs. The doll’s hair was painted black and there was a benign expression on its face, he didn’t like it “I want you to get rid of it.”
    “What harm is it doing?”
    “None, I just don’t like it, take it with you when you go.”
    “That’s strange!”
    “There’s nothing strange about it, it’s just weird!”
    “No, I mean when I arrived it was on your writing desk, now it’s on the coffee table.”
    “Well just get rid of it.”
    “What shall I do with it?”
    “I don’t know, give it to someone you don’t like, keep it yourself, throw the damned thing in the dustbin for all I care…..just get rid of it!”
    “Very well, if it upsets you that much.”
    He pulled himself together “It doesn’t upset me.”
    “You could have fooled me” the housemaid said picking up the Peg Wooden Doll and slipping it into her apron pocket “same time tomorrow sir?”
    “I expect so, thank you for the lunch.”
    “A pleasure sir” the housemaid said closing the cottage door behind her.
    The next day was much the same as any other and all No.256 had to do was decide how to spend it, and then he saw it. Sitting on the coffee table  the Peg Wooden doll! He stared at it, and it stared back at him, although the once benign expression now replaced by one more severe. He was about to pick the doll up when the door to his cottage opened and the housemaid whilst carrying a breakfast tray, struggling to open the door, finally entered the cottage.
   “I do wish you would answer the door when I knock, or get an automatic door” the housemaid complained carrying the breakfast tray into the dinette.
    “I suppose you think that’s funny!”
    The housemaid put the tray down and looked at him “Funny?”
    “Well the joke’s over!”
    “I’m sorry I’m not with you.”
    “You brought it back, why did you do that?”
    “I don’t know what you are talking about.”
    He grabbed her arm and led her into the lounge and pointed at the Peg Wooden doll perched on the coffee table.
    “I don’t understand” she said “I didn’t put it there; I’ve only just brought your breakfast. In any case it’s not the same one, it has a different expression on its face to the other one.”
    “I know, it’s changed its expression!”
    “Perhaps it didn’t like you getting rid of it.”
    “I didn’t, you did, or was supposed to have, so the curse should be on you!”
    “I gave the doll to a friend.”
    “Then how do you account for it being back here?”
    “I can’t!”
    “Someone must have brought it back here.”
    “Well it wasn’t me!” the housemaid protested slamming the door on her way out!
    In the control room an Observer had been watching ‘256 Private.’
    “Supervisor Number 256 seems to have got out of bed the wrong side this morning.”
    The bald-headed bespectacled Supervisor turned his attention to the Observer “How do you mean?”
    “He’s just upset Number 42, something to do with a wooden doll in his cottage.”
    “Let’s have him on the screen” the Supervisor ordered.
    Pictured on the large wall screen, watched by the Supervisor and his assistant, No.256 picked up the 13 inch tall Peg Wooden “If you think you’re going to get the better of me you’ve another think coming!” Crossing the lounge he opened the door and went outside round to the back of the cottage when he lifted the lid of the dustbin and dropping the doll in with all the other the rubbish and slamming down the lid he went back inside to eat his breakfast before it got cold!
    “Strange behaviour” No.60 said “I wonder why he did that?”
    “Who put the doll in 256’s cottage in the first place?”
    “No idea” 60 replied.
    “Go to the Bureau of Visual Records and look through the surveillance tapes of 256’s cottage for yesterday and see who put the doll there.”
    “The maid took the doll away.”
    “Yes, so who put it back?”
    “The maid said she gave it to a friend.”
    “Yes, what friend is that?”   
    No.256 decided to go for a swim, not in the sea but in the swimming pool. The water was stone cold, which made it perfect for clearing the mind. He swam several lengths of the pool watched by three young women wearing swimsuits. He dived below the surface, then surfacing at the end of the pool where the three young women had been. He wiped the water from his eyes and looked up to see the life-size wooden frame of the Peg Wooden doll sitting at the edge of the pool now dressed in a bathing costume! He kicked himself away from the alarming sight and swam to the far end of the pool, hauling himself out he turned and looked back across the swimming pool….the figure of the Peg Wooden had gone. There were only the three young women playing with a beach ball!
    Having changed into his light blue flannel trousers and grey jersey No.256 spent the morning trying to forget the image he had seen, putting it down to a trick of the light. After all it was quite ludicrous to even imagine a 13 inch wooden doll could suddenly become life-size. And there were the three young women, they would surely have seen it, whatever “it” was and screamed their heads off at the very sight of it. So if such a thing could not exist then the problem, whatever it was, was within him. At the kiosk he bought himself a copy of The Tally Ho, then made his way to the café where he decided to have lunch.
    “Yes sir, what can I get you?” the waitress asked with pencil and pad at the ready.
    “I think” No.256 studied the menu “I think I’ll have the beef and ale pie.”
    “Is that with boiled potatoes sir?”
    “Ah no, chips.”
    “Tea or coffee?”
    “Very good sir” the waitress said hurrying away with his order.
    He sat at a table outside the café, it was a reasonable day, and he had put aside the uncanny experience of earlier that morning. He unfolded his copy of The Tally Ho and set about reading how No.2 was proposing to bring about an increase in vigilance in the village.
   “Here we are sir, beef and ale pie, with coffee for two” he heard the waitress say.
   “No, not for two” he said putting his paper down to see the figure sat opposite him.
    It was a shock! He was sure the expression on the Peg Wooden’s face had grown more severe as though it was directing all its anger towards him. Pushing himself from the table he fell backwards in the chair disturbing the customers sat at other tables.
    “What’s wrong with him?” a woman asked.
    “Is he having some kind of fit?” a man asked.
    “Someone call an ambulance” said another.
    256 got to his feet “Don’t you see it, don’t any of you see it?”
    “See what?” the waitress asked.
    “There, sat at my table!”
    Citizens stared at the man in astonishment.
    “He’s off his head” someone said.
    There was no-one sat at his table, no-one or anything thing sat at his table. No.256 stood there, everyone was looking at him, the waitress setting his meal down on the table. He had suddenly lost his appetite, he went home and the first thing he did was look in the dustbin… was empty! He went into his cottage, poured himself a large whisky and sat down in an armchair. In a matter of hours he had experienced not one but two hallucinations. Whether it was something within him, or something in the water he was unsure. Then another thought, perhaps it would turn out to be one of No.2’s little games, if it was then the whole village must be in on it judging by the reaction of the people at the café. The glass then slipped from his fingers, spilling whisky on both his trouser legs and the carpet. For on his writing desk sat the 13 inch naked figure of the Peg Wooden doll!
   No.2, a middle aged man, about 5 feet 10 inches tall, with far too much Brylcream on his greying hair, sat in the black global chair he was watching No.6 at the kiosk pictured on the wall screen when the yellow ‘L’ shaped intercom bleeped, he picked it up switching off the wall.
    “Yes what is it….is he, send him in.”
    The pair of steel doors slid open and the butler showed No.256 into No.2’s office. He walked down the ramp the steel doors closing behind him.
    “Yes what do you want?”
    As No.256 approached his desk No.2 could see he held something in his hand, that something he placed down on the desk, No.2 sat looking at it.
    “What’s that?”
    “You don’t know?”
    “Would I ask?”
    “I don’t know what the game is, but you’ve set your creatures upon me!” No.256 said accusingly.
    “My creatures…. I don’t understand.”
    “Someone put this thing in my cottage.”
    “Why would anyone do that?”
    “You ask me!”
    “You think it was me?”
    “No, not you personally Number 2, perhaps that assistant of yours.”
    “Why would he do that?”
    “Because you told him to, the worst of it is I can’t get rid of it. The housemaid took it way, it came back. I myself threw it out with the rubbish, but it’s come back. Earlier today this Peg Wooden haunted me twice…in life-size at the swimming pool and the cafe!”
    “And you expect me to believe that, what do you take me for?”
    “But it’s true.”
    “You said this Peg Wooden doll moved from your writing desk to the coffee table. Would it interest you to know that we have you on surveillance moving that doll yourself when the maid wasn’t looking” No.2 glanced down at his copy of The Tally Ho “what game are you playing 256?”
    No.2 rose up out of his chair, he picked up his shooting stick and drew out the slender steel blade and waved it in 256’s face, it made him flinch.
    “I’ll teach you, and others like you, not to get on the wrong side of me.”
   No.2 was about to cut open 256’s left cheek with the blade of his sword when the over-sized red curved telephone began to bleep. He replaced the blade in the shooting stick.
   “Get out!”
   No.256 made for the ramp, the pair to steel doors opening, No.2 picked up the intercom as the pair of steel doors closed.
    “Yes sir…… sir there are no problems, certainly nothing I can’t handle………the new arrival sir, when does she arrive……..I see sir, I have her file. Well I thought she might be able to tell us where her husband has gone………we haven’t been able to locate him. We know the name of the hotel; he’s met the woman Mariah there several times…………he’s disappeared sir..........yes sir, I’m sure I can persuade his wife to tell us.”
   The pair of steel doors opened and the tall, lean, light brown haired figure of No.14 entered the chamber “Who was that leaving a moment or two ago?”
    “Number 256, he’s been telling stories. I want you to pay him a call and put him right.”
    “Yes Number 2.
    “The helicopter when it arrives this afternoon will be bringing a new arrival, we’ll let her settle in, then I want to see her.”
    No.14 turned smartly round and marched across the floor, up the ramp and out through the opening steel doors.
   A white Mini-Moke stopped in the cobbled square; four men alighted and walked along the path to the cottage of ‘256 Private.’ No.14 opened the door and walked in, followed by his three associates. No.256 had been in the dinette making himself a cup of coffee and a sandwich, but went through into the lounge when he heard the cottage door open.
   “What can I do for you gentlemen?”
    No.14 stuck out his chest “You can stop making up stories 256, that’s what you can do!”
   No.256 looked nervous, he was nervous as he looked at the three bully boys 14 had brought with him “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
    “Of course you do. You’re a troublemaker 256” 14 told him.
    The three guardians spread themselves about the lounge, looking at the contents. One examined a porcelain statuette; it slipped through his fingers and smashed on the floor. Another cleared the bureau of books and papers, while the third swept the mantelpiece clean of dust, two candlesticks, a brass cannon, a small picture frame, cigarette box and matches.
    “Do you know what I’d like to do Number 256?”
    “To dust you down, I’d really enjoy it.”
    But No14 didn’t break the skin of his knuckles, he allowed the three to give No.256 a thorough going over. They left the cottage with 256 lying, bleeding from the mouth and nose, and unconscious on the floor.
     It was
2 o’clock in the afternoon when the helicopter, bringing a new arrival, arrived at the village. It landed on the lawn by the sea wall, where an ambulance was waiting. Two white coated medical orderlies climbed out and carried a stretcher to the helicopter, the unconscious body of a young woman was carried out of the helicopter and placed onto the stretcher. The two medical orderlies carried the stretcher over to the ambulance and placed the body into the Red Cross trailer. Then driving up the hill into the village drove round to 73 Private,’ carried the young woman on the stretcher into the cottage. She was placed on the bed and allowed to slowly wake up. 
   It was with some relief that the young woman woke up to find she was at home, but it came as quite a heart stopping shock, as she looked out of the window, to discover that the room she now stood in had been transposed to an Italianate village!
    The young woman sat in a chair in the purple walled office in the Green Dome, No.2 sat opposite her behind his desk. She was nervous, frightened, and the hands that held a cup and saucer trembled.
    “There’s no need to be nervous 73.”
    “Why have you brought me here, I’ve done nothing wrong.”
    “We want a little information that’s all.”
    “What sort of information?”
    “About your husband and the kind of work he did.”
    “He never talked about his work.”
    “Oh come now 73 surely you must have known about the kind of work your husband did.”
    She shook her head and drank her tea.
    “We have all the time in the world my dear. I suggest you go about the village, familiarize yourself with your new surroundings, get to know people. And then we can talk again, there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
    Life in the village did not suit No.73 at all; she was all alone with no-one to protect her. She had committed no crime, but the reason for her presence in the village was an obvious one. On several occasions she had been interviewed by No.2 and his assistant, and the subject was always been the same…her husband. She has been threatened, frightened, cajoled into talking. She was not a secret agent trained to resist interrogation techniques, she was a frightened and nervous housewife whose husband was somewhere away on business. She was afraid of No.2 and what he might do to her, or have done to her, so much so that her nerve finally broke. She was found lying on her bed in her cottage, she had slashed her wrists in a suicide attempt. Now No.2 had a different question.
    “Why did you slash your wrists 73, aren’t you happy here?”
    73 lay in the hospital bed and shook her head.
    “You’re not being very cooperative my dear.”
    “There’s nothing I can tell you.”
    “Come now, you must know where your husband is.”
    “He’s still over there.”
    “Oh somewhere there, he had some work to finish.”
    “Was he devoted to you?”
    “He is devoted to me.”
    “Oh, so you don’t mind about him and the woman Mariah?”
    “That’s a lie!”
    “Stop protecting your husband’s memory 73, he went to her hotel several times you know. And then there was the villa of course.”
    No.2 unzipped a black document case and took out a photograph.
    “Let me show you just how loyal your dear husband is to you” he stood looking at the photograph smiling to himself “they look quite at home together. Would you like to know the date, place….look.”
    No.2 placed the photograph on the bed, No.72 turned her head to one side and closed her eyes tight shut refusing to look at the photograph. Then No.2’s kindly approach suddenly changed.
    “I’ve wasted enough time!”
   He put the black document case down, with a look on his face that frightened 73, No.2’s demeanour was one of menace as he approached the bed as though he is about to do her harm. No.73 looked terrified, she screamed and screamed then jumped from the bed as No.6 suddenly burst into the room and leapt to her death through the open window………………….

Be seeing you

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