It was a dim 5-to-11 on a foggy drenched November morning. I reached the cafe with a handful of minutes left to order a drink and sit in faux-casual suspension for the rendezvous. I had hoped to start the encounter ‘in control’ by appearing calmly grounded, disconnected from time and space, an eternal god for whom mortals blipped into existence and hurriedly buzzed about trying to impress. Unfortunately, the actual heavens had decided to unload a cloud on my head a hundred metres back and I was now irreversibly timestamped at soggy human o’clock.
I ordered a tall black coffee, +10mg of caffeine and a Snickers syrup percentage high enough to hide the taste but low enough to not smell like a children’s birthday cake.
Steaming cup in chilly hands, I found my way back to a table equidistant from the rear wall and the only other patron in the cafe. I noticed they were reading a slim book entirely filled only with AR markers and dreamed up all manner of depravity they could be publicly indulging in. To ensure my dominance in the meeting I decided it best to be facing the entrance so that I could sit stoically through their social ordeal as they made their way to meet me before my unflinching gaze. This unfortunately meant that I was now sat facing the book reader like a distant goddamn mirror; I resigned to the presumption that they were otherwise engaged in inspecting a miniature gymnastic orgy of sex and/or violence between bites of their panini.
I popped the lid on my mug and found the coffee had come out with a Mars logo’d foamy head and branded straw. I scowled at the machine as I sucked up the nougaty cloud and stored the straw in my inside pocket. ‘Not very fucking professional’ I mouthed as I returned my gazed to the door; a faceful of tuna and cheese smiled politely and expelled a tiny humored gust out of their nose before turning a page and returning to their passive perversion.
I subconsciously tapped my finger and thumb together, saw it was 10:58 on my ocular overlay, and tapped again to dismiss it. There’s not a lot you can do in 2 minutes, especially if you’re trying to look cool. ‘I suppose I could start doing something’, I thought, ‘and then I’ll be busy with my own shit when they arrive’. Only mildly panicking, I tapped and scrolled around on my thumb until I had a pad of paper in front of me; there was a warped mountain of paper in the middle where my coffee was so I moved in out of the way and reset. I took out my pen and started to take some notes. Tensions eased til I realised I was using the straw and heard a quiet snort in the distance. I swapped the straw for my pen and continued.
Arrived 10:55 ready for contact.
Possible pervert at 12 o’clock.
-AR hiding likely a dirty comic as opposed info of interest.
“Oh, I think you’d be surprised.” Holy fucking shit, the pervert was stood over my table!
My eyes darted between the notes and the pervert as he pulled out a chair, “How are you? How did you?” – I looked at his table then back to where he was now, “How did you?”.
“Not bad for 60, right?” he sat down and made the unmistakable sound of a man who enjoyed doing so.
A notification beeped.
“Eleven, on the dot”, the 60-year old smiled.
For a brief moment my face sagged and my mouth hung open before I quickly gathered myself into an unconvincing inquisitive expression. “Ah, so you’re my contact. How did you read my notes?”
“Oh it’s just part of some standard equipment. It’s mostly for reading this gobbledygook”, he waved his book in one hand as he popped the last piece of his sandwich in his mouth with the other, “itsth all uncrupthed dynamacry tho”, he swallowed, thank fuck, “so we’ve got hardware and software synced with services that tell us the page and paragraph and then, well, we just get on with it”, he closed the book, “But the fun side effect is: the over-engineered tools included can intercept all sorts of shit.” I noticed the cover of the book wasn’t far from the debauchery I had imagined. The spy shrugged. “Speaking of which, your left eye’s overlay is a couple months out of date. I’m surprised you haven’t been noticing a difference between them; headaches, double vision?”
“No”, I shook my head but then visibly considered things as I closed and opened alternating eyes. “Ha ha ha!”, the spy slammed the table. “Here”, he flipped through his book, then looked up at my left eyeball through his bushy grey eyebrows as he tapped his meaty sausage fingers on a tiny abstract marker, “anything?”. I noticed his finger didn’t always land on the actual marker so started to wonder if he wasn’t just making all this stuff up, either at my expense or because he was insane.
My left eye beeped, then my right, then both together. My sight suddenly felt a little sharper. I couldn’t distinguish between now and a moment ago but something had definitely cleared up. “Huh”, I looked at my hand then the bushy eyebrows then back at my hand, “That’s weird; everything’s setup to automatically update.”
The spy did an accurate albeit sarcastic impersonation of my inquisitive expression, “Maybe you were hacked?”. He couldn’t help but smile then a laugh burst out as he slammed the table again causing my coffee to bounce. He let out a high pitched giddy sigh, “I don’t know why but I like you. You’re no trouble.”
“Well”, I looked at his book of tricks, considered the immensity of the secrets he wasn’t telling me, and knew I was probably in a better position than I deserved to be. I swung my head down to the side and up at the spy as I comically drew out “fairrrr enough!”
The spy nodded several times microscopically as he looked at my cup, “Snickers aye?”, he looked at me with wider eyes and a more serious rigid expression than I was ever expecting. He maintained eye contact as he leaned in a millimeter, raised a sturdy brow, and whispered “Good man.”
I originally wrote this on Prose. Visit https://theprose.com/danielpratt to see my other writings. I also edit and spellcheck things there more regularly 🙂
(part 1 here)
Stood outside with his eyes locked on the upstairs bathroom window, Jon’s feet felt their way to knocking his trainers upright and shoving themselves into their loose-fitting escape from the cold concrete driveway. He knelt down. His fingers spidered across his large woollen coat until they felt the shiny lining then ran along the collar until they reached the interior left pocket where they slid out his phone. He pressed the home button. ‘Oh god I need to unlock it’ he panicked at the thought of the villain’s shadow escaping his glimpse and somehow magically sneaking up behind him. He quickly looked down and saw number pad was already up. ‘For Emergency Use Only’ it read. “Oh yeah, I can do that.” He pressed 999 and held the phone up to his ear as he reconnected his defensive stare and slid on his coat, swapping the phone between his hands as he threaded them into either sleeve.
A thought struck Jon, ‘What if I imagined it?’. He turned his focus to his back but a courteous elderly man’s voice abruptly entered his ear, “What emergency service to you require?”. “Umm”, his back throbbed, “Oh thank god.”
“Excuse me, sir? If you let me know which-”
“-uh, police, please. Thank you.”
“Transferring you now.”
The events transpiring suddenly became very real. Not in a beneficial way like his senses were taking in the situation or his mind was consciously compiling the evidence required to conclude as to what had happened. Real like the opposite. Real like he’d just called the police and a cloud of doubt had gone from looming over him to now surrounding him.
“You’re speaking to Officer Rimmer. What’s the situation – how can I help?”
“I think there’s a man in my house? I dunno, someone kicked me in my house. I’m outside. I don’t know if they’re inside.” Saying it out loud seemed to help Jon feel more confident. If he said it to a police officer, he was at least certain enough to do that so they couldn’t catch him out for pretending. He was definitely scared. And his back hurt.
“Someone attacked you? OK. Are they still there – could you describe them?”
“Um, no I woke up after. I felt them kick me and I woke up. I hit my head.”
“Do you want an ambulance – are you ok?” The officer, although helpful, was speaking in such a level monotone that it heightened Jon’s paranoia and self-doubt. Did the officer think he was taking the piss?
“No, I think I’m ok. My head and my back hurt. My hand hurts a bit from landing on my guitar. I don’t think I’m cut or whatever. I think I just blacked out for a split second.”
“The person who attacked you – they ran away to somewhere in your house?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t hear them.”
“Sorry I don’t understand. They got in, kicked you, and disappeared?”
“No, no. I don’t know. It felt like I was out for a split second. Like, I woke up but I think I felt my hand land like I’d just felt.”
“Can you describe the shoe?”
“The what? I didn’t see it.”
“No, sir. I mean, did you feel what hit you? Was it a large boot; could you guess their height from where they managed to kick you?”
“It was sort of in the middle of my back, between my shoulder blades.”
“Were you sat down?”
“No, I was standing up, using a pedal. An effects pedal for the guitar.”
“Could it have been a punch sir?”
“Uh, I don’t think so. It sent me right against a wall a few feet away. I’m not super heavy but I don’t think I could be punched like that.”
A thought struck Jon and the cloud of despair solidified into a force that slapped him into an awareness of the possibility that he’d rather not have noticed.
“Sir, you were playing an electric guitar did you say?”
Fuck. Even the policeman had figured it out.
You can’t hang up on a police officer.
Play along? Play it stupid? Fuck.
Maybe honesty? Jesus.
“Uh yeah, in my living room with an amp. That’s how I landed on the guitar.”
“Do you know if the sockets you were using were surge protected?”
“Ah fuck. I think so.” ‘Honestly stupid’ it is.
“Right. Because it sounds like you might have electrocuted yourself.”
“Ah. That does make sense.”
“I can send you an ambulance sir if you’d like to be checked over?”
“No. I think I’m ok. Just a bruised ego.”
“No worries sir. If you change your mind or think there’s evidence you might have actually been-”
“-no I think I’m OK but thank you. I’m sorry, I think I was just shocked.”
“It’s understandable sir. You sound like you’ve been, well, shocked. You sound like you’re OK now but feel free to call again if you feel unsafe.”
“You’re welcome sir.” The phone hung up.
Jon sighed an exhausted back-aching sigh as he looked down at his trainers. He’d shoved them on too fast and squashed the backs down beneath his heels. He stood back out of them and picked them up. He unlocked his door, went inside and looked at his guitar and amp. “Fucking surge protectors then. I’m not doing that again. I could be fucking dead.”
“Almost”, came a voice from the landing.
Jon was struck with terror and his body felt like it had caught on fire with the impending sense that his bladder was about to explode. He ran for the door, fishing out the bundle of keys he had just used to lock it. Jon shook in desperation as he rattled through the silver and copper metal shapes that all suddenly looked and felt indistinguishable, fighting the urge to turn to see the figure he could hear walking down the stairs behind him. Jon slid a winning key into the lock and grabbed the door handle but two large hands in woollen gloves grab his head and slammed it against the framed bubbled windows of his front door, causing the glass to crack which pinched the skin on his forehead. Jon’s vision tunnelled and went dim as he slid to the floor. He landed on his knees, curled up, and covered his head but no further strikes landed on him.
He looked through a crack between his hands and saw a tall rotund man in a brown bomber jacket and ripped denim jeans picking up his guitar. “Would you like to hear a solo, Jon?”
Jon felt behind himself for the keys but they were gone. He turned back to the man and saw his red embossed metal Fender logo keyring hanging out from one of the wool-edged bomber jacket pockets.
Jon considered the open areas of the house that surrounded himself and the man. The kitchen was probably reachable but the windows above the sink were tiny. His bedroom window upstairs was big but it didn’t have a lock. The bathroom! Plus, Jesus, this piss! There’s the window overlooking the front dormer window of the living room and it’s got a lock.
Jon took a deep breath then realised there wasn’t a method to this and sprung to his feet, ran upstairs two steps per stride at a speed he didn’t know was possible, swung around the bannister at the top of the stairs and catapulted himself into the bathroom. He was running so fast that he couldn’t stop himself hitting his shins on the bath but spun around fast enough to slam and lock the door before the man could grab the handle.
Jon’s thoughts went again to the piss before the man started shouldering the door. The noise was incredibly loud and low; it didn’t sound like it would break easily but it wouldn’t be long before that kind of force would take the hinges off or rip the lock out of the frame.
“Fuuuuuuuck!”, Jon screamed at the door in fear and anger, “Fuck Off!”, Jon kicked the door, “Fuck oooooff!”, his voice broke and tears streamed down his face has he kicked the bath behind him. He could hear the amplifier downstairs screaming back up at him.
Panic and the need to escape took over. Jon turned to the window. It was already open. He climbed into the bath, leant his torso over the window ledge, and looked down at the roof of the dormer window. “There’s no other way. Height or not.” Jon heard the door crack as he grabbed the window frame and propelled himself through the window.
His foot caught on the window catch causing his body to roll before the latch tore through his skin and released his weight.
Jon landed on the felt of the roof with less pain that he expected but the momentum of the fall caused him to continue to roll off the roof legs first.
He landed on his feet and fell forward onto his hands causing him to sprain his wrists. The pain forced him to immediately fall off his hands onto his side on the wet grass.
He looked at his wet green-stained hands, hoping to see no signs of a break. There were black lines on some of his fingers. He imagined holding a guitar. The black lines lined up with where the strings would be.
He had electrocuted himself.
Who was in his house?
Jon was beginning to think God didn’t want him to have a piss.
Footsteps approached Jon from across the road along with the comforting voice of someone not trying to kill him, “Oh my god! Are you ok?”. A middle-aged woman in a parker stood at his feet, keeping to the pavement, “Do you want me to call an ambulance? My God, I saw you fall”, she looked up at the window audibly congratulating herself. She looked back down at Jon, “Are you OK? God, are you pissing yourself?”.
Jon closed his eyes and smiled, “Fuck God”. He could hear a guitar solo being played. It was pretty good, the kind he’d always wished he could play.
I originally wrote this on Prose. Visit https://theprose.com/danielpratt to see my other writings. I also edit and spellcheck things there more regularly 🙂
Forest for the Trees was a collaboration started by Carl Stephenson that included Beck’s earliest recorded work – Stephenson went on to co-write Loser and produce Mellow Gold with Beck.
The first album (self titled ‘Forest for the Trees’) has been a huge influence on my taste in music as well as any of my own writing and producing. I’m always hoping Carl Stephenson will get back to writing and producing.
In the hopes of getting the music into more people’s ear holes (and because I think all of the publishers who owned the music no longer exist) I have been uploading everything I could find to youtube:
1-12: Full Album Playlist
Dream is by far the most popular and critically acclaimed song on the album. There was even a fittingly trippy funky music video made for it:
2: Infinite Cow
Infinite Cow includes the first recording of Beck (singing about fat cow tongues at the end).
4. You Create the Reason
6. Wet Paint
10. Green Light Street
11. Planet Unknown
12. Thoughts in My Head
I’ll be updating this post and publishing another couple with more videos and some high res scans of the album (and EP and Single) sleeves.