Call The Locksmith (January 7th, 1999)|
There was once a family called the Nightingale family who lived in Melbourne in 1987 -- the father was called Eric, he had a wife and two sons. One day Eric's wife came home from work to find a strange old man in her house. She assumed he was some crazy homeless guy and told him to leave. For a while he refused to leave, saying that this was his home and she was his wife, but eventually she got rid of him by threatening to call the police. Later that afternoon, she told Eric about this incident and said she couldn't work out how the old man had gotten in.
"Maybe you should call the locksmith", she said.
Eric asked, "Why?"
His wife replied, "So that we can get the locks changed."
Eric agreed with his wife's plan, but somehow he never got around to calling the locksmith. The following day, Eric came home from work a little early and found something strange in his mailbox -- underneath the other mail he found a CD. It was lying loose at the bottom of the box, without a case. Printed on the CD were the words, "JUNK MAIL by Antipodes". He took it inside and played it. It turned out to be very slow and sad music, with soft female vocals and minimal guitar-sound underneath. The lyrics were hard to understand -- very abstract and poetic, with an undertone of misery and despair. Eric had never heard music like it before. Later on that night his family heard the CD -- they were interested by the mystery of its strange appearance, but the music did not appeal to them much. Then Eric found something else written on the CD, in very small print -- "August 1990". As this took place in 1987, it made Eric even more curious about the CD's origin. His wife said it must be someone's idea of a joke.
Over the next few weeks, Eric began to get more and more obsessed with this music. He tried to find information about the band "Antipodes", but he couldn't find anything. He asked at all the record shops -- they all said they had never heard of the band. He would sit alone in an armchair at home with his headphones on, listening to the CD over and over again and sinking deep into its somber atmosphere. Pretty soon his obsession with Antipodes started to have a negative effect on his job as a data-entry operator -- he couldn't concentrate on his work because he could think of nothing else but Antipodes and he couldn't get the music out of his head. His family, too, were sick of his one-tracked mind and it led to many disputes in which his wife claimed that he cared more about Antipodes than about his own family. After one day in which he didn't go to work because he spent the whole day listening to the CD, his boss called and said he was fired.
Eric's obsession showed no sign of abating, and it wasn't long before his wife left him and took the children. After that he was all alone in the house. He cried and drank alcohol and wished for death, still listening to his precious CD up to fifteen times a day. Finally he decided to commit suicide. He jumped off a footbridge over a main road -- but the footbridge was not high enough and the suicide attempt failed. He just broke both his ankles. While he was recovering in hospital, he was informed that he had been evicted from his home. Then one day, in hospital, the nurse said he had a visitor, and the visitor's name was Joel. So Eric said "Send him in!", because Joel was the name of his son.
The person who came to see him, however, was not his son but an old man with a white beard and a white T-shirt. The old man looked dirty and thin, like a starving vagrant. Eric was disappointed, and demanded to know who the old man was and why he had claimed to be Joel.
The old man replied, "The nurse said you were only accepting family as visitors, so I had to claim to be your son, to get in and see you."
Eric asked, "But how did you know my son's name was Joel?"
The old man was silent for a time, then he said, "I can't tell you that, but I know a lot of things about you. You're in a difficult situation right now, but don't worry, you'll get through it and everything will turn out O.K. You've got to find a woman named Merisa -- she will help you -- she will save your life."
Eric grunted, "Get out of my face, ya crazy old man -- I don't need this sort of rubbish right now. Get out!"
The old man nodded slowly and turned to go. As he was walking away, Eric noticed that he had the word "Antipodes" written on the back of his T-shirt, He begged the old man to come back, to give him some clues about who Antipodes was, but the old man just continued to leave, calling out over his shoulder, "Find Merisa, Eric! Find Merisa -- she will help you out."
Eric was more confused and miserable than ever. After his feet were healed, he was still obsessive and suicidal so he was transferred to a psychiatric ward. There he lived for a while, talking with psychiatrists, taking medication and slowly making progress. Then one day he was walking through a corridor and he heard some music coming from behind a door. It was nice music -- he opened the door and found himself in an unfamiliar room with a group of musicians. They continued to play, without paying any attention to him. There were five of them, all young males except the lead vocalist who was female. The music sounded very slow and easy to play, and one of the guitarists had his back turned the whole time. When the song was ended, Eric asked the lead vocalist what was going on.
She said, "This is a band that we've formed -- we are a group of patients who have formed a band -- these are our own instruments -- we just formed yesterday but today we are rehearsing and after we leave hospital we're going to play lots of gigs and get a record contract and become famous." Eric asked what the names of the band members were.
The singer said, "That's Mark -- that's Matt -- that's Tim -- that guy with his back turned is Henry Locksmith, he's sort of the leader of the band - and my name is Merisa."
Hearing the singer's name, Eric was reminded of the old man's prophesy. He said, "Merisa, I'm glad to have met you -- I think it was fate or destiny or something which brought you here -- we need to keep in contact -- someone predicted that you would help me in some way -- that you would save my life -- Merisa, I was told to search for you."
The singer just laughed scornfully. "You're just trying to pick me up. You're trying too hard. I'm very flattered, but you need to change your technique."
Eric mumbled, "Sorry. It could be just a coincidence -- the name -- but that music you sing, it sounds almost exactly like -- like -- oh, never mind. Do you have a name for this band yet?"
Merisa answered, "Well, we've been toying around with a few names, but I think we've settled on 'Antipodes'."
The word struck Eric like a slap in the face. "Antipodes?", he gasped. "But that's -- impossible -- I know Antipodes -- I have their CD at home -- they sound the same as you -- they ARE you -- I have your CD --"
Just then the guitarist Henry Locksmith turned around and strode over to Eric very quickly. He shouted, "WE DON'T HAVE A CD OUT, YA STUPID IDIOT! THE BAND JUST FORMED YESTERDAY! ARE YA DEAF OR SOMETHING?"
This outburst caused Eric to run out of the room in terror. He had never been so frightened in all his life. It was not the words so much as Henry Locksmith's face that scared him -- his face had seemed ugly and twisted like a demon's face. From that moment on, Eric regarded Henry Locksmith as the most frightening human being in the world. He would hide when he saw Henry Locksmith coming. He would see that hideous face in his nightmares, striding across the landscape, crushing houses and roaring "Where is Eric Nightingale? I will crack open his head!" He broke down in his therapy sessions, telling his psychiatrist that Henry Locksmith was the devil and begging to be transferred to a different ward. Finally he could bear the daily terror no more -- he escaped from the psychiatric ward and went out onto the streets.
Eric started to hear voices in his head, telling him he was a worthless piece of garbage. He started seeing Henry Locksmith out of the corner of his eye, but when he turned to look the man was gone. He started believing that a large group of people were out to get him, and they were planning to destroy humankind, and it was up to him to save the world. Often he cried at the hopelessness of his mission, for who was he to go up against Henry Locksmith and the evil group that he commanded? Eric thought that everyone knew about his mission.
He spent the next four years as a homeless shell of a man, sleeping on the street, eating out of rubbish bins, talking to himself. Sometimes he would hitch-hike to other cities, like Sydney and Brisbane -- he didn't like to stay in one place for too long, because whenever he found accommodation he always suspected people were trying to kill him. His insanity waxed and waned -- sometimes he would wander the dark alleyways late at night and ambush people who walked along -- he would attack them, beat them up, and steal their money. That was his only source of income. But sometimes he made the mistake of attacking people who were stronger than him.
One night he was walking the backstreets of Melbourne, looking for someone to attack as usual, when he heard someone coming. He hid behind a piece of fence, then sprung out when the person came around the corner. But as soon as he saw the person's face, he backed off. It was Henry Locksmith. Henry grinned at him. Eric ran away, but he didn't get far -- Henry pursued him. It was like a nightmare come true. Henry grabbed the lid of a garbage-bin and hit Eric over the head with it. Henry started laughing with violent madness as he hit Eric over and over again. Eric lost consciousness.
When he woke up he was still in the alley but he couldn't remember anything. He didn't know where he was. He didn't know why his head was aching. He couldn't remember anything about Antipodes or Henry Locksmith -- he couldn't even remember his own name.
So he started wandering, and he found that he was in a bayside suburb. It was a warm summer's day. Normal people were hanging out in the park and at the beach. They were walking up and down the shopping-streets, looking into windows. Eric saw some street-theatre and some percussion buskers. Everything was beautiful and he decided the world really was a nice place. But then at the end of the day there was a cool change -- strong, cold winds came in across the sea and most of the people went home.
Eric wandered a little further, thinking he would need a place to spend the night. He came across an old run-down mansion which had been converted into a cheap hotel, it was called the Paradise Hotel. He had some money in his pocket so he went inside and asked for accommodation. Sure enough, there was a vacant room and he had just enough money to stay for two nights. The receptionist gave him the key to his room. He went off to find it but on the way to his room, he was walking down a corridor when he heard some music coming from behind a door. It was slow, sad, mellow music with a female vocal -- he didn't identify it as Antipodes but somehow the music entranced him and enticed him -- the door was slightly ajar so he poked his head around and saw that the music was being played by five musicians. They didn't pay any attention to him -- Merisa had her eyes closed -- Henry Locksmith had his back turned – and the other three seemed to be playing half asleep as they sat there. Eric entered the room fully and stood before the musicians -- he let the music wash over him and it was intensely beautiful -- near the end of the song they suddenly started playing very loudly and emphatically, putting strain on Eric's eardrums.
When the song was over, he asked the lead vocalist what was going on. Merisa said, "Oh, it's you! We met in the psychiatric ward, remember? I told you we would be a successful band after we were discharged, and it's all come true -- we have a record-deal and we've been playing at gigs all over the place."
Eric said, "Your music is amazing -- I'm glad you're doing well, but I must confess that I don't remember ever meeting you before. You see, I woke up this morning a blank slate. I don't know where I am. I think I've lost my memory. I can't even remember my own name."
Just then the guitarist Henry Locksmith turned around and strode over to Eric very quickly. "Do you remember -- ME?"
Eric said, "No, I don't."
Henry Locksmith shook Eric's hand and said, "Well, glad to meet you, my name's Henry Locksmith. This band is called Antipodes. We'll be playing at the Metro Nightclub next Friday -- if you find out what your name is, tell me or Merisa and I'll put your name on the door list -- that way you'll be able to get in for free."
Eric thanked Henry Locksmith and went to his own room. He got into bed and fell asleep.
The next morning, Eric went down to eat breakfast in the dining room -- meals were included in the price of the accommodation. While he was eating, Merisa came along and sat at his table.
She said to him, "Hello -- look, I was thinking about your situation and I'm a little worried about you. How long are you going to be able to stay at this hotel?"
Eric replied, "Only one more night. Then I'm out of money -- I don't know what I'm going to do after that."
Merisa said, "I happen to know there's an old man staying at this hotel who has a strange gift of extra sensory perception -- when I first met him, he seemed to know all sorts of things about me without me telling him. And he also predicted when Antipodes would get a recording contract -- he got it right. No one knows his real name -- everyone just calls him Bloodwynd. He's in room 42. I was thinking, maybe he could tell you some things about yourself, to help you get your memory back."
Eric thanked Merisa for her advice, and she talked more with him, giving him some useful information about where to get help with accommodation and how to get money. After breakfast, Eric went to room 42 and knocked on the door.
"Come in!", said a voice. "It's not locked!"
Eric entered the room and saw an old man sitting cross-legged on the bed, with his back to Eric. He was wearing a dirty, tattered shirt which had once been white, and it had the faded word "Antipodes" written on the back of it. "I've been expecting you", he said.
"Excuse me", said Eric. "Are you... Bloodwynd?"
"That's what they call me", said Bloodwynd. "I know what you're thinking. You want me to tell you who you are."
Eric said, "Yes. Merisa said you had some sort of extra sensory perception or something."
Bloodwynd chuckled. "That's what Merisa calls it. She doesn't understand what it really is. I've known Merisa for a long time -- but I've known you for an even longer time, believe it or not. I could probably tell you every little thing you've ever done in your whole life, and everything you're going to do. But too much information can be dangerous."
Eric said, "How about you start with my name?"
"O.K.", said Bloodwynd. "Your name is Eric Nightingale. You're an aimless drifter. You have no home. I don't know how you got the money to stay in this hotel, but I'm certain that you stole it from someone. You lost contact with your family years ago. You have a few mental problems. That's really all I can tell you. Now you have to tell Merisa."
Eric cried, "What? You mean I'm a homeless person? What am I supposed to do? Tell me how to get off the bottom rung."
Bloodwynd said, "It's not for ME to tell you. Like I said from the beginning, it's Merisa who is destined to help you, not me. Go to Merisa's room and talk to her -- but stay away from the rest of the band -- especially Henry. Henry is a dangerous man."
Eric said, "He seemed O.K. when I met him. He was kind -- he said he'd let me in free at the Antipodes gig at the Metro on Friday."
For the first time, Bloodwynd turned around slightly so that Eric could see part of his face. "They're playing at the Metro, you say? On Friday? Hmmm. They've never played there before. O.K., that's all I'm going to tell you, Eric. Shut the door on your way out."
Eric left room 42 and went upstairs to Merisa's room where the band had been playing the previous night. Merisa was alone in there. He told her what the old man had said about his identity. Merisa listened, and at the end of it she said she felt sad and helpless at the thought of Eric going out on the street with no memory and no money.
She said, "Even without the mental illness, the poverty cycle is hard to break out of. You probably don't even get social security money, and with no i.d. you'd probably find it hard to claim the dole. I wish I could help you somehow. I've been poor myself so I know what it's like."
Merisa spoke more with Eric, telling him how the world works, then she said, "I have to go and make some phone calls. I'll speak to you later -- don't check out of the hotel without saying goodbye."
Eric went back to his own room for a while, then he went downstairs and spoke to the receptionist, whose name was Jack Star. Jack was also the manager of the hotel. Eric asked him about Bloodwynd.
Jack Star said, "Bloodwynd isn't his real name -- he got it from a character in a comic book or something. He used to be homeless. He was a mental patient for a while too. We get a lot of people like that at the Paradise Hotel -- the lowest dregs of society, the poor and the wretched who can only afford the lowest rent. This used to a luxury five-star hotel -- back sixty or so years ago, we used to have the silver service -- but now it's just another cheap boarding house. No one really WANTS to stay here -- it's only for people who can't afford anything better."
Eric said, "But what about the band, Antipodes? I heard they were doing quite well -- they have a record contract and all."
Jack Star replied, "The band, yes -- they just recently became very popular. Merisa and Henry have been here ever since they were discharged from the psychiatric ward. This place is where they've been getting their inspiration from -- you may have noticed that all their music is about despair, and depression, and things going badly -- it's the sort of thing they see here every day amongst these lowlifes. They kind of have an emotional attachment to this place. But I'm surprised they've stayed here this long. They'll be leaving soon, I'm sure. They're rich. Richer than me, anyway. Did you know they wrote a song about me once? No? Well they did."
Eric said goodbye to Jack and went back to his room. The next day, Merisa came to him at breakfast and told him that she'd paid his rent for the next week. She couldn't bear to see him leave the Paradise Hotel when he had no other place to go.
Eric asked, "Are you going to keep paying my rent forever?"
Merisa replied, "No, but I'm going to help you get on my feet. I have connections -- I know someone who runs a shop and they have a job vacancy -- I asked them if they can interview you for the job, and they said yes, as a favour to me. I think your chances are pretty good -- you don't need any experience -- I also looked into the possibility of getting you a place to stay -- a proper flat -- I can lend you the money for a bond -- and I can help you with --"
Eric interrupted incredulously, "Why are you doing this for me?"
Merisa replied, "I like helping people. This is what I do. I just hate to think of you sleeping on the streets, starving to death. I saw that I can make a difference to improve someone's life, and I want to use my money to make the world a better place. The job interview is tomorrow -- I can tell you what to say --"
Suddenly things were looking up for Eric Nightingale. The following day, he went to the interview for the job at the shop, and he got the job. He started working at the shop as a trainee. He didn't actually get paid until some time later, so when the time came for the Antipodes gig at the Metro, he still didn't have any money. But that was O.K., because Henry had said that his name would be on the door-list and he could get in for free. He went to the Metro nightclub on Friday night.
At the entrance, Eric said the bouncer, "My name is Eric Nightingale."
The bouncer replied, "No it isn't. Eric Nightingale is already inside -- he arrived earlier in the evening. So don't claim to be someone you're not, because it doesn't work."
No matter how much he argued with the bouncer, he couldn't get into the nightclub for free. So eventually he just had to go back to the Paradise Hotel. The day after that, he read in the street-press that the Metro gig had been Antipodes's best ever.
A few days later, Merisa found him a place to live. It was a one-bedroom flat, and she signed the lease herself. It wasn't a very nice room, a bit old and dingy, but it was a start. She came over to see him some days and taught him how to cook and clean and wash his clothes and pay his bills. One night, near the start of his tenancy, he was lying asleep on his borrowed mattress when he had a strange dream. It was about Henry Locksmith -- Henry was sticking a key into Eric's forehead and twisting it, saying "I'll open your head, Eric Nightingale -- I'll open it wide, and fill it with junk mail -- you have an appointment with me at Maxims -- don't you forget it." He woke up and it was still the middle of the night. He felt a strange presence in the room, and then a luminous mist gathered above his bed. The mist resolved itself into a human figure -- it was the old man Bloodwynd, hovering in mid air.
"Eric!" called the apparition in a weak voice. "I came to warn you about Henry -- I went to that gig at the Metro on Friday, Eric -- Henry invited me backstage after the gig -- he let me hang out with the band, then they took me in their van to some other place -- I don't know where it was -- they took me into a room and tied me to a chair -- and then they killed me, Eric -- Henry cut my throat -- killing is what he does for fun after a show, Eric -- Merisa was there, but she didn't participate -- it was Henry, Eric -- he destroyed my body -- stay away from Henry Locksmith -- he killed me, Eric, and he'll kill you too -- I know you'll like Antipodes's music, by all means, buy their CDs and their merchandise -- but NEVER go to a Antipodes gig, Eric -- they'll murder you --"
The ghostly figure dissolved into nothing. Suddenly the room was back to normal again. Eric went back to sleep. The following morning he woke up and remembered the vision. He remembered everything the old man had said, but he wasn't sure if it had been just a dream or not.
Time went on and Eric became more independent. He needed Merisa's help less and less. He did well at his job and got a promotion. He bought Antipodes's album, which was called "Silent Being." He became a big fan of Antipodes and went to a few of their gigs, disobeying the old man's warning. But after five gigs, Merisa came to him and said, "Eric, as you may or may not know, me and the band are doing quite well. Our album is selling fast -- and the single, too. We're doing video-clips and getting a bit of radio air-play. But now the time has come for us to go overseas. The record company says our album is selling particularly well in England and Europe, so that's where we'll be touring. I don't know when I'll be back. Do you think you'll get along O.K. without me?"
Eric said yes. He was sad to see Merisa go, but he knew he would not need her help anymore. He promised to write to her. And so, Merisa and the band went over to England.
Years passed. Antipodes became an international success. Eric got a new job, a higher-paying job in the retail area -- he moved into a new flat. He bought every Antipodes product he could get his hands on -- all their CDs, all their videos, all their books and clothing. He bought a computer and logged onto the internet -- there he communicated with other Antipodes fans by email and read all the information at www.antipodes.com. Five years later, the band broke up. Merisa formed a new band with another group of well-known musicians, and she continued to record music. As for Henry Locksmith, nothing more was heard about him.
Another five years later, the news was reported that Merisa had died. No one knew how she died -- the body was never found but she was missing presumed dead. Eric was extremely sad, but he had fallen out of contact with Merisa years ago and he got over it. Then, by chance he came across a very old magazine article about Antipodes. Near the end of the article, it said:
"Their new touring schedule means they won't be able to get back in the studio as much and work on new songs or remix projects of their own work or compile something as enigmatic and challenging as the bonus CD 'Junk Mail' that comes with early copies of 'Silent Being'. A repository for leftover ideas, even edgier and more gnarled and twisted, razor moments in the studio, 'Junk Mail' is an atmospheric wonderland, a fusion of songs and thoughts that wafts dangerously and veers enigmatically."
Eric had never heard of this CD "Junk Mail". In all his years of searching the record shops for rare Antipodes releases, he had never come across it. Apparently it was only available with early copies of "Silent Being", and his own copy wasn't early enough. He asked the Antipodes Fan Club about it, but they couldn't help him. He contacted the record company. He contacted the magazine. But none of them could tell him how to get his hands on a copy of "Junk Mail" -- it was too old and too rare.
Twenty years later, Eric Nightingale was a retired man living in a house with his second wife, one of the people he'd met in the Antipodes Fan Club. He had pretty much given up searching for the CD "Junk Mail", but somehow he felt that his Antipodes collection was incomplete without it. Then, one day, he happened to mention to someone on the internet that he was still looking for "Junk Mail." The next day, he checked his email and found an anonymous message which said, "Heard you were looking for 'Junk Mail'. Try calling this number: 95334504." Eric dialed the number on his telephone.
The person who picked up said, "Locksmith speaking."
Eric was confused for a second. "Locksmith? Are you HENRY Locksmith?"
"The Antipodes guy? The guy who wrote the songs?"
"That's right. Who's this?"
Eric paused a little in surprise -- partly because he thought Henry Locksmith was still in England, and partly because the voice sounded exactly the same despite all the years that had gone by.
"Oh -- well you might remember me. My name is Eric Nightingale."
"Maybe I do. What do you want?"
"I was wondering if you have a copy of 'Junk Mail'."
"Yeah. Of course I do."
"Well, I was wondering if you'd consider selling it to me. I'm a collector of Antipodes memorabilia, and I'd be willing to make a very generous offer for that rare CD."
"Really? Well, Eric -- I might just consider that offer. But you know as well as I do that a lot of Antipodes fans would like to have 'Junk Mail', and there just aren't enough copies to go 'round. So I'll only sell it to you if you're one of the top twenty most devoted fans. Do you have all the singles?"
"Did you go to the first Metro gig?"
"No, I tried to get in but the bouncer turned me away."
"Oh. It's a pity 'cause we were selling 'Junk Mail' at half price at that gig. But I suppose it's not your fault. Do you have all the EPs?"
"Including 'Some Demises Steal Eternity'?"
"Yes. I also have seven autographed posters, all the videos, the book by MaCrow, the hat, the poster-size lyric sheet, and the T-shirt."
"Which T-shirt? The blue one or the white one."
"You have the WHITE one? Well, you really are a devoted fan. O.K., tell you what. Come to my house and bring your chequebook -- we'll talk price when you get here. My address is --"
"Do I have to come to your house?", interrupted Eric, remembering Bloodwynd's ghost. "Can't we meet up in some neutral place?"
"Hey, do you want this CD or don't you? My address is 117 Baudelaire Avenue Wantirna. Come wearing the white T-shirt, to prove you aren't lying about that. Tomorrow at 1pm, you understand? That's when you have to be there."
"O.K. Mr Locksmith, thankyou, I'll be there at 1pm and we can start the bargaining process."
"Oh, you'll get a bargain all right.", said Henry. And then he said something in a mumble, something that sounded a little bit like, "You'll get more than you bargained for."
The next day, Eric drove his car to Wantirna. As he neared Henry Locksmith's neighbourhood, he got the strange feeling that this was a journey he'd made before -- not just once but many times. In fact, the whole neighbourhood was familiar somehow. He arrived at 117 Baudelaire Avenue and looked at the front of the house. It looked very familiar. There was a plaque beside the entrance which read, "Maxims". The name rang a bell in more ways than one -- he was almost certain he'd been to this house before but he couldn't remember when.
The door was open. He knocked on it and it opened further. He called, "Mr Locksmith?" There was no answer. So he went inside.
The door closed behind him with a bang. "Must've been the wind", he thought.
Suddenly he realised why this place looked so familiar -- it was his old house -- the house he had lived in with his first wife and two sons all those years ago before he'd lost his mind. The furniture was different, but the architecture was the same. Seeing it again now, some sort of door opened in his mind and memories came flooding through -- about his family -- and his data-entry operator job -- and the early copy of "Junk Mail" -- and the rest of his lost life.
He shouted, "Henry Locksmith! Where are you?"
There was no answer. He walked through to the living-room. There, on the coffee-table, he found a copy of "Silent Being". He opened it up and found an extra CD in the case -- it was "Junk Mail". But still Henry Locksmith was nowhere to be found. Something was strange about this house -- he felt like he could see things out of the corner of his eye, like little heads peeping at him. And there was a sound, too, almost inaudible and on a very high frequency, like scornful laughter. He decided to leave this house and come back another day -- he couldn't take the CD, not without agreeing on a price, and he couldn't stand the tension of this place.
But the front door was deadlocked. The back door, too. He couldn't get out. When he investigated the window, he found that it was dark -- somehow day had turned to night. But it wasn't just night -- there were no streetlights or stars out there. Eric was terrified. He didn't have a clue what was going on. But he knew there was no way out.
After half an hour of further investigating, he turned on Henry's CD player, put the 'Junk Mail' CD in, and pressed play. It seemed the only thing left to do. The music started. Eric sat down in the soft, comfy, armchair. It sounded different from how he expected -- it sounded more -- live. Like the musicians were all around him, and they were playing just for him. After twenty minutes of music, he was feeling very sleepy. The music went into a repeating phrase -- it repeated over and over like a broken record, thirty times, forty times, fifty times -- the room seemed to fade away around Eric and he was in a dream-state.
He heard the voice of Henry Locksmith, saying, "I have you now, Eric Nightingale. You know why they call me the Locksmith? Because I control the doors of the universe. You've been a part of this from the beginning, Eric -- you were at the other end of this portal when it opened, and now I'm at this end. So now I'm going to do to you what I did to Merisa."
"What did you do to Merisa?", demanded Eric, and his voice echoed as if inside a massive chamber. "You killed her, didn't you? You killed her just like you killed Bloodwynd!"
Henry Locksmith laughed. He laughed a nasty, evil laugh and then appeared in front of Eric in that form which had so frightened him in the psychiatric ward. "You'll soon find out, fan-boy -- you'll find out when the music stops!"
Eric shouted, "NOOOOooo! I can break out of this! I can stop the CD!"
Henry Locksmith sneered, "You can't go yet, Eric Nightingale -- we haven't discussed the price for this rare piece of memorabilia. How about -- your LIFE? HAHAHAHAHA!"
Eric reached out to press stop on the CD player, but his hand passed right through it. He strained against the music -- he tried to block it out -- he ran another song through his head, one by Merisa's other band --
Henry Locksmith taunted, "And I'll even throw in a free pass to that Metro gig -- and this time you won't miss out --"
Eric wasn't listening. The CD player solidified and he pressed the stop button. The repeating phrase ceased, but instead of silence it was replaced by a fast song, one in which the guitar was played out of tune and the drums had too many fill-ins. Merisa's vocal was nearly drowned out by the cacophony. And Henry started laughing again, "HAHAHAHAHAHA!"
Eric pressed the eject button. The music reached a noisy climax and then stopped abruptly when he plucked the CD out. He was not sure, but he thought he heard Henry's evil laughter fade off into the distance, decreasing in volume but not in mirth. The room filled with light. And everything was changed. The chair was a different chair. The hi-fi was a different hi-fi. The wallpaper was different. The only thing that was still the same was the "Junk Mail" CD in Eric's hand.
The sun was shining through the windows.
He heard a distant key turning in the lock of Maxims. Who would be unlocking the door? The locksmith, perhaps? A few seconds later he saw who it was. It was his first wife. She jumped back when she saw him.
Then she demanded, "Who are you?"
Eric said, "Don't you remember me? I -- I'm your husband --"
The woman said, "No you're not! How did you get in?"
Eric said, "This used to be my home! I know you -- your name is -- Veronica. And we have a son named -- Joel -- and the other one is named --"
"How do you know all this? You've been spying on us, haven't you? You're some kind of psycho." The woman started moving around the room towards the phone.
Eric moved towards the exit. "I'm not psycho -- I mean, I used to be -- but don't you recognise my face? It's a bit older, but I'm your husband! I'm Eric!"
"Get out of here! I'm calling the police! I'm warning you --"
Eric backed away towards the door. "O.K., O.K., I'm going --"
He left the house.
On the way through the front garden, he noticed that the trees had shrunk since he came in. His car was gone. There were many other changes, too – somehow he knew that there was no point in going home – neither his second wife nor his house would be waiting for him.
He looked down at the CD in his hand. "Junk Mail", it said. He had no case to put it in, no shelf to store it on. It was the only one of its kind. Such a rare and valuable CD should not be in the care of a homeless person. He didn't even have a CD player anymore.
Wondering if it was the right thing to do, he slipped the loose CD into the mailbox slot. Then he walked away.
-- Stephen Clark