Toby sat up and sighed. Now if you were an expert on sighs and other forms of emotive breathing you would have taken note of the extended gradual lowering in tone of this sigh and maybe attributed it to the fact that Toby was losing all interest in his one great passion, art.
He no longer spent the usual four hours every night perfecting his sketch book and he didn’t ride over to the Tate Modern every Sunday to see if any new pieces had come in, in fact nothing in his life was design related anymore. It didn’t help that at college he was surrounded by a group of pretentious twit’s hell bent on creating unsightly pieces under the subheading of modern art. This tunnel vision for all things peculiar meant that anything remotely classical, however brilliant went completely unnoticed. And so he found himself in this classroom of useless idiots listening to their ridiculous debate that had been sparked off by the latest outrageous piece by that wild unhinged revolutionary artist, John Peru. Each waffling comment was a jet of steam adding to the already high pressure in Toby’s head. Things took a turn for the worse when the conversation moved from commenting on Peru’s work to bragging about any remote connection to the artist.
“My friend got off with him at one of his parties.” One girl screamed to the amazement of the group.
“So what, I once got high with him in a tent at Hyde park festival,” Shouted a boy eagerly.
“Well I once passed him leaving a toilet and it had only one urinal so probability suggests I pissed in the same urinal as him.” Said a boy whose smile slowly disappeared as everyone looked at him a bit weirdly.
The room was now filled with an awkward silence and Toby saw this as his chance. He stood up and walked to the door, with the door open and all eyes on him he shouted in his loudest voice, ”you are all retarded.” At which point he left feeling guilty at having used a word that was highly offensive to mentally handicapped people.
Toby slid down the hand rail that accompanied the stairs leaving the central college of art. At the bottom, sitting on the rails that ran down the sides of Oxford Street were his friends. He gave them a flick of the eyebrows and a lifeless greeting.
The group on the rails looked at each other surprised at how down Toby appeared to be. How uncommon it was to receive anything less than extreme enthusiasm from Toby who couldn’t go ten seconds without smiling. Eventually after a puzzled pause they all got down and walked to where Toby was. Once at his side they all moved off as a group eastwards along Oxford Street away from Hyde Park. Sterling broke the silence and in a move to divert the group’s attention from Toby’s mood said.
“So Evan, you don’t fancy taking the plunge tonight and getting the tattoo.”
Evan smiled smugly and shook his head.
Undaunted Sterling changed the topic yet again; it was his nature as a restless young man to be talkative after an activity as restrictive as college.
“Where shall we go out tonight?”
“Well I have a friend who has converted an old barge on the Thames to a cider bar and they’re opening it tonight,” said Charlotte.
“Sounds great,” Sterling replied happy at having received a reply that classed as conversation.
“There’s only one thing, it is likely that we’ll be the only people under thirty.”
“I don’t think that will be a problem,” Said Sterling as a cheeky grin appeared on his face.
Toby burst in, “Yes we all know you like the older women Ster.” Toby had recovered from the depressing review of his life.”
“I hate to disappoint but you’ll have no chance tonight as this party will be full of thirty something banker types with way more to offer a young lady of London than you,” Charlotte told them.
Sterling holding his finger above his lip symbolising a moustache, said in a deep and posh voice. “Well maybe I have no chance however my alias Dirk Bennett Coleridge; Banker, philanthropist and soldier of fortune may do better.”
Charlotte pulled a face and they all walked on.
The weather was fairly warm that autumn Friday afternoon and as was customary most of central London was out on the streets heading to the river. Even though the streets were as full as they ever would be they weren’t overcrowded and it wasn’t as frantic as the London of old. There was a happy atmosphere as everyone began to unwind for the weekend. Great streams of people were all heading towards the great river and the bars that lined it. Amongst the crowds were people of all ages and races, smiling in their comfortable surroundings. No one knew why everyone had made the river their social centre but you could speculate that it lay furthest from the boundaries of London, beyond which their guilt lay. In the outskirts of London there would be no parties or social events as everyone worked seven days a week.
When the segregation first occurred the government said it was to protect the vulnerable hard workers from the lazy criminal thugs of the lower classes however this was a lie. In the twenties with Britain’s financial sector in ruins and all its manufacturing gone, it was on the brink of collapse. The massive middle class built from the exploitation of the third world could no longer be supported by our crippled economy. The politicians took drastic action to save their own skins: they lowered the minimum wage, working standards and social support. They recreated the lower class of the Victorian age and nestled amongst it was the upper class closed community of modern London, surviving by the hard work of the rest of the nation.
“Wow, look at that.” Sterling was mesmerized by the sun setting over the river. “Now that is the sunset you’d see at the end of the world.”
It was truly astounding the rays from the edges of the sun seemed disperse through the air creating cylinders of light, while the reflection on the water’s surface made it look like a river of gold. The rest of sky had gone pink with the edges of clouds lined with that mix of gold and pink. The skyscrapers had their glass windows lit up and their shadows sheltered all the buildings that stood behind.
“Yeah, like a final gift from God, to say that whatever shit is about to go down is nothing personal and has to be done.” Toby was enthralled as well.
At the end of the old rickety pier was a cloud of bright multicoloured lights, this was obviously the apple bar. The pier completely empty and it was deadly silent. This was weird, where was distant hum of music or the usual loiterers outside smoking and talking enthusiastically about topics they knew nothing of. Their view of the boat was affected by the bright lights around it but they could still clearly see there was no obvious entrance. This all led to the suspicious thought, that there was no party here tonight.
“So this looks fun,” said Evan sarcastically.
“Yeah, are you sure you have the right day?” chortled Sterling. A small burst of coughs followed this comment as Sterling, so focused on smoking his cigar neglected his duty of breathing.
Charlotte stopped and turned to face the group. Staring at them she bent down and picked up a rope. Handing it to Toby and staring into his jet black eyes she said, “Pull on it.”
Toby then tugged on the rope and slowly lifted the trap door in the floor of the pier.
The whole group stared the dark abyss that the trap door had covered. After an extended period of time all attention turned to Charlotte who from her stance appeared to be preparing to jump.
“What are you doing Charlotte? You can’t jump in there, there’s no telling how far down that goes or what is down there!” said Evan.
Charlotte was angry at Evan’s lack of trust and gave him no reply.
She simply said in her authoritative voice, “there is no other way in, don’t forget to get out of the way or you will be hit by the next person.”
And with that she jumped. On the pier everyone was completely silent. They couldn’t see her and there was no sound from her landing. They didn’t know what to do. Eventually Sterling broke the silence stepping up he said, “God speed.” And with that he was gone. Once again there were no sounds or reassurances from the abyss. However this did not daunt Tamsin or Emma who quickly followed. So now there was just Toby and Evan staring into the gulf which had swallowed their friends.
“So, do you want to go first or shall I?” said Toby shakily.
“It’s not a case of who is going first because I’m not going at all and I’ll be damned if I let you take this stupid pointless risk.” Evan shouted with wavering authority.
“Risk; what risk do you think Charlotte would have jumped if she thought it was dangerous, you need to relax.” Toby said before leaping into the darkness.
For a few seconds he fell then he landed in what turned out to be a giant pit full of black sponge balls. He flopped around for a bit while trying to find his feet and eventually wide eyed and curious he clambered out and fell again this time on a hard rubber floor. Ouch. He got up and spun around looking for an exit to this dark labyrinth. He began to feel the wall closest to him looking for the edge of a door. After a bit he found what he thought was a door, feeling the crevice running in a rectangle from the floor to a good distance up the wall. He pushed on it, nothing. He wedged his fingers into the gaps and pulled, once again the door stayed completely still.
Giving up he sighed and slumped against the wall, it creaked. Toby’s eyes widened and he turned and pushed the wall. With another creak it started rotating around a pivot above what he had believed to be a door. As it spun he walked through cautiously not knowing what to expect. On the other side he found a long corridor. The walls were painted black and slowly they became grey and eventually white. It was like a decompression chamber for light, slowly preparing the occupier for light again. At the end of the corridor was a normal functioning door which Toby passed straight through. Into another room of darkness, he was just thinking of how boring this was becoming when he was hit by the light of thousands of LED’s mounted in walls, ceiling and floor. He felt the white heat from the lights, and he was dazzled to the point where his mind was completely blank. The majority of the lights were constantly on however every now and then one would flicker; something Toby assumed was a flaw in the circuitry, but it wasn’t. The frequency of the flickering was building becoming ever more intense and soon patterns where emerging with letters and numbers all appearing and disappearing as areas of bright light oscillated back and forth like waves hitting the shore. The frequency increased more and more creating a storm of light that Toby had never witnessed before. Then it was dark!
Toby stood in the darkness aware of his heightened breathing as the only sound audible in the darkness; when suddenly a bass note echoed around the room, badum boom ba. Seconds passed before the next bass note echoed, badum boom ba. This time the lights of the room flashed on and off with sound. Like the lights before the frequency that the sound occurred at was increasing, though there were still a few seconds pause between each beat.
“Ten, for ten seconds after your birth your heart stopped.” A deep voice coming from all directions reverberated around the room.
Badum boom ba.
“Nine, at the age of nine your mother died for reasons unknown.” The rough strong voice sounded again.
Badum boom ba.
“Eight, your aunt and uncle lived together at 8 Sussex Place in Brighton.”
Badum boom ba.
“Seven, seven times you have run away.”
Badum boom ba.
“Six, you have been in love six times.”
Badum boom ba.
“Five, for the last five days you’ve been building up the courage to kiss Charlotte.”
Badum boom ba.
“Four, there are four people in the world you hold above anyone else.”
Badum boom ba.
“Three, there are three decisions you will make that will result in the death of friends.”
Badum boom ba.
“Two, twice you have seen your dad in a life threatening situation.”
Badum boom ba.
“One, one billion people will die in the next forty minutes.”
After this last statement the room was lit with a dim glow like a cinema at the end of a film and a door at the end of the corridor opened. But Toby didn’t move towards it, he was frozen to the spot with a single tear glistening in the corner of his right eye. He couldn’t comprehend how anyone could know those things about him. Charlotte had taken him here so she could have prepared this but she didn’t know half of those things and her humour wasn’t as sick as this. Then his mind turned to the far darker idea of those predictions. Could it be possible that someone who could extract knowledge that only he knew could predict the future. The horror of what he had heard was overwhelming but the only way to get any answers was to proceed through the door at the other end of the corridor. He walked through the door and yet again his senses were hit with a barrage of stimulation.