We are delighted to present a new, previously unpublished short story from Morgan Omotoye, author of the recently published novelette Here is Where (Open Pen, 2021). Go here to order a copy of Here is Where directly from the publisher.
Conrad’s laptop had given up the ghost. Dark wavy lines swam across the screen like determined, slow moving eels, so he switched it off, counted to ten, then twenty under his breath. When he switched it back on, the dark, pesky wavy lines all over again, gazillions of them this time round; looking decidedly more sophisticated and cunning than your everyday eels going about their everyday business. The lines appeared dangerously agitated and gratingly pure like something mined from a nightmare. Conrad uttered an elaborate sequence of curse words before switching his laptop off and just about managed to suppress the urge to fling it across the room, making it smithereens for always.
………..Next day, laptop in hand, Conrad made his way to the computer shop on the high street. He’d spotted it a number of times on his way to get a hair cut or tongue scorching coffee from Sainsburys without ever once being tempted to enter, even when the window display revealed video games going for less than half price. Conrad lifted his right hand to push open the glass door. A shrill beep announced his presence. A few short steps into the L shaped shop, a mezzanine with a counter. Behind it stood a lanky kid in a pink T-shirt. The shirt was so bright Conrad blinked delirium like he was looking into the pulsating heart of an alien sun, before handing his laptop over.
………..Conrad said things circumstance demanded and the lanky kid nodded his head gravely as he went about tilting Conrad’s laptop one way then the other as though he was determined to shake something, anything, loose. He placed the laptop on the counter top with a clanging thud, which made Conrad think; maybe I’ve made a mistake here? The lank kid switched the laptop on. He looked Conrad in the eye directly as it powered up and Conrad was so uncomfortable under his gaze he glanced away, taking in the frieze of video games and vacuum packed HDMI cables dotted along the walls.
………..Somewhat bored with the screen, and appearing instead to take in the dark whispery sound of the cooling fan spinning away in its ease, the lanky kid switched the laptop off. He tsk’d disapprovingly like a hanging judge. He patted his index finger against his chin before announcing in a weedy voice the graphic card was done ‘n’ dusted. A new one would cost eighty pounds.
‘Somewhere in that region, for sure,’ the lanky kid said, no longer patting his chin.
‘You’re joking,’ Conrad said.
‘Sorry, no,’ the lanky kid replied.
………..The day before his birthday Conrad got his laptop back. He switched it on in the front room. Not a solitary hint or trace of wavy dark lines. Everything appeared to be running smoothly. Conrad smiled to himself before checking his music library which seemed pretty much ok, the thumbprint album covers matching their respective albums, which wasn’t so much the case in days gone by. He checked his bookmarks, he liked what he liked and the devil could take the hindmost. His cache of bookmarks remained the same. All in all everything seemed in order, to be running smoothly, perhaps even slightly better than smoothly, as Conrad checked his pictures folder.
………..Conrad’s girlfriend, Dulcie Gone was in their kitchen. She was adding a tablespoon of salt to a simmering pot of rice when she heard Conrad scream her name. Dulcie dropped the spoon and raced towards the front room, nearly tripping over the careworn Finding Nemo rug in the hallway.
‘What’s wrong?’ she asked, her blue-grey eyes coruscating with worry.
………..Conrad pointed to the laptop screen with a quivering finger. On the screen was a picture of him wearing a blood red, Thudercats T-shirt. Standing next to Conrad in front of a graffiti bombed wall was a tall woman with breathtakingly long dreadlocks dangling past her shoulders. The woman was as black as the deepest darkest sea. Conrad’s right arm was snaking behind her waist and the two of them were smiling directly into the camera. They looked distractingly happy.
………..With a drying mouth, Dulcie watched Conrad tap the mouse touchpad. Another picture slid effortlessly into place, on the centre of the laptop’s quietly gurgling screen.
………..Same graffiti riddled wall, Conrad and the woman kissing, in a way which made their bodies appear obscenely liquid. Like there was a protracted absence of bones, of scaffold. There was something uncannily devolved to them, or maybe, hyper evolved Dulcie found herself thinking, rapturous sensate ooze. It was alarming how the sun lit them up like they were the only two organisms in the world. Like it knew their names, like it was involved in their pleasure, its light, teeth marks on sticky skin.
………..‘I-I-I you have to believe me, I have no idea who she is,’ Conrad said in a voice stealthy with desire. He touched the mouse-pad again. Another picture slide into view, same colour ambushed wall with a patterning emerging in the swirls of blue and disconsolate amber slashes; same gorgeous woman, same insane love radiating from her. In the picture Conrad was smiling in a way Dulcie had never seen before. Had never imagined in all the years lying next to him, kissing him, hearing his voice. The smile looked like a new area of skin had miraculously sprung into being, one that gave him warmth, made him beautiful in a way that wasn’t so much attractive but a little frightening. That smile spoke of such open hearted grace, discovering it on Conrad’s face in this picture, made Dulcie’s ribs ache.
………..Dulcie’s throat tightened. The T-shirt Conrad wore in the pictures was the one and same she bought him for his birthday. She knew it was the exact one she got him, because there were words scribbled under the Thundercats logo. The flowing signature of Larry Kenney. Voice actor for the stalwart leader of the Thundercats, Lion-O.
………..Months ago, feeling inappropriate in a long, winding queue of chattering enthusiasts flamboyantly decked in home made costumes of various members of the Thudercats, Dulcie had waited ages in line for Larry Kenny at a comic convention in Northampton. The only thing Dulcie knew about Northampton was the fact it was mentioned in The Doomsday Book. This she knew from an episode of University Challenge, which she enjoyed watching while doing the ironing.
………..‘My boyfriend loves your show,’ Dulcie said, feeling shy and over exposed once the words left her mouth. Kenney smiled, all American sunshine and big open parries. He asked after her boyfriend’s name with unyielding enthusiasm, a black marker poised, like the sword of Damocles, over the T-shirt she gave him to sign. The T-shirt Conrad was wearing in the pictures on the laptop. The T-shirt hidden under piles of clothes in Dulcie’s bottom draw.
………..Dulcie ran into their bedroom. Pulled open the drawer, peeled and threw clothes behind her in a disarray that was all aftermath. She grabbed the T-shirt, tore off its bright wrapping, and raced into the kitchen, again nearly tripping over the Nemo rug in the hallway.
………..Her hands were shaking, and yet, on her very first attempt she managed to lift the bubbling pot of rice to one side. She held the T-shirt over the calm blue ring of fire. Her eyes filling with tears as she lowered the shirt. Before the T-shirt started to smoulder, Dulcie saw a smile, like no other, flash before her tear stained eyes. Dulcie quickly pulled the T-shirt from the flames.
………..She calmly walked back to the front room, where Conrad sat, looking through his pictures. With great difficulty he took his eyes from the screen and looked at Dulcie. Before he could say anything Dulcie handed him the T-shirt.
‘I know it’s early,’ she said, ‘but happy birthday.’
………..Conrad stared at the T- shirt. Dulcie kissed him on his forehead, turned and made her way back to the kitchen, without the Nemo rug being much of an obstacle, in fact it was almost as if it wasn’t even there. Dulcie looked at what remained of the rice; decided it could use a little more water and perhaps a dash of salt.
Here is Where by Morgan Omotoye is the latest in Open Pen’s series of novelettes, and can be purchased directly from the publisher here.
Morgan Omotoye was a bright, happy go lucky sort of chap, fighting all manner of Monsters ‘n’ Ghosts ‘n’ Zombies with his friends like there was no tomorrow. Glory days. Then the fiasco in Harrow, the loss of his cursed Samurai sword… ghouls… screaming… shadows, oh the shadows. Morgan resides in London, where he writes.
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