Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Incident on Wardour Street

I didn’t sleep well the night everything changed. It might have been an oppressive August night, the way I tossed and turned, casting off the bedcovers, a fine sheen of perspiration making my nylon nightdress stick to my flesh. In the boarding house where I rented a room, all was still, almost peculiarly quiet, as if the inhabitants were waiting, scarcely daring to breathe, all meekly lined up in their mean narrow beds in the dreary musty smelling rooms. We knew—but what did we know? At three a.m. there was a tremendous explosion of light outside, illuminating the city skyline, turning the dark late autumn night a piercing metallic silver. My curtains were drawn, but the heavy cloth was turned to mere gauze by the bright intensity. A triangle of shimmering quicksilver appeared on my bedsit wall and I stared at it for some minutes, too afraid to leave my bed. There were two voices in my head—reason, which suggested a fearful explosion, a towering conflagration at some local place of industry, perhaps Battersea Power Station—and another insidious voice that whispered of Armageddon. I reached for my Bible, which lay on the bedside table, then stopped as the dazzling triangle seemed to intensify and grow. Something within me, some reckless urge or desire to conquer fear, made me slowly get out of bed and cross the room to the wall with the triangle of light. The sky outside had returned to darkness tinged with London’s streetlight glow and I looked at the window coverings, trying to ascertain what chinks in the curtains could be making the triangle form on the wall. Again and again, I looked from the window to the wall, the reasonable voice in my mind telling me, in calm, measured tones, that there had to be a gap in the old brocade cloth, a space between the top of the curtain and the rod where the light (what light since the massive explosion had passed?) could insinuate itself and form a projection on the wall. But there isn’t a gap. There is no way that light should be there, no way at all. I don’t understand. As if in a dream, I reached out and touched the apex of the triangle which glowed with a dense kind of light I had never witnessed before, as if it were concentrated, intense. The moment my fingertips met the wall the triangle disappeared.
I decided to take the next day off work, couldn’t face the thought of another eight hours at the office, typing endless letters as my mind burned with the memory of the strange triangle of light. I hadn’t slept but lay curled up in bed, with the covers pulled up over my head, like a child with night terrors. A day’s window-shopping on Oxford Street, that was the thing to take my mind off the event. I washed and dressed quickly, then made myself a cup of tea. And maybe I’d go to Carnaby Street in Soho, where the trendsetters shopped and pick up some groovy ideas for my next dressmaking project. I just needed to get out of the house.
“The end of the world is nigh! Repent now or burn forever in the fires of hell!”
I flinched as I passed the bearded old man who preached hellfire and damnation near the entrance to my local Underground station. His half-crazed and bloodshot eyes glittered maniacally as he thumped his worn old Bible and accosted the passing crowds who’d heard it all before. Descending into the bowels of the earth on a creaking escalator, I felt as if I had entered the Inferno. The framed adverts on the walls showed details of “18 hour girdles” and stomach powders, reassuringly prosaic. I bought a ticket to Leicester Square. The underground station really did feel like Hades but it wasn’t the first time the thought had crossed my mind. I walked briskly though the narrow, low-ceilinged passage that led to the eastbound platform. It was nothing more than a small tiled tunnel. I loathed being there in rush hour, when hordes of people pushed their way through it like rabbits in a warren. Out on the platform a warm rush of stale air announced the arrival of the next train. I pressed my back against the wall and saw the glowing triangle, clear and sharp in my mind’s eye, as if it had been burned onto my brain.
It was apparent that a sense of vague unease gripped the city. The morning newspapers had printed reassuring stories of a brief freak lightning storm and the resulting power cuts caused when a strike knocked out a major transmission line. So lucky most of us were asleep, comforted the Standard. But people were talking on the journey to Tottenham Court Road, recounting tales of odd things seen and felt, always fuzzily indistinct, as if they were trying to recall the swiftly fading details of a dream. Something had changed—but what? Everything seemed unchanged. I listened, silently, to snippets of conversation. No one mentioned a triangle of light.
At Tottenham Court Road, I realized that a young man was following me.
“Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Freak electrical storm causes chaos!”
A newspaper vendor’s cry broke through my preoccupation and I bought a copy from a kiosk.
“Hardly chaos.”
The man was level with me, staring at a window full of elegantly clad mannequins. I froze, my heart beginning to beat like a drum. Behind the plate glass, six plastic girls in Courreges mini-dresses smiled rather vapidly.
“Those skirts are nice and short, aren’t they?”
What a wonderful day to attract a pervert! I turned away, clutching my newspaper, but the man grasped me by the arm and spoke softly and insistently in my ear.
“I know, Miss Blythe. I know everything. Don’t be afraid.”
His fingers brushed against my breast, whether deliberately or not I could not be sure but the sensation was profound, even when muffled by my sweater and coat.
“How do you know my name? I’ll scream!”
“Oh, don’t be melodramatic, Cathy. You have to come with me.”
Suddenly angry, I turned to face the man, quite prepared to hit him with my handbag if necessary. He was around my own age, mid twenties, and had short, curly black hair. His skin was dusky and he wore heavy rimmed spectacles with tortoiseshell frames. He wore a brown corduroy suit and carried a large umbrella. There was something about his eyes, a fierce, penetrating quality that made me glance away. They were the pale grey blue of a Siamese cat.
“I know what you’ve seen, Cathy. You’ve been selected.”
I began to walk away, catching sight of myself in the mirrored entrance of a jeweller’s shop. I looked a little dowdy, my skirt unfashionably long, but my sleek bobbed hairstyle looked “happening”. My eyes were like a fawn’s, wide with indignation, thick-lashed and heavily outlined with kohl.
“You look like a suburban Cleopatra. I’m David. Have coffee with me and I’ll explain.”
“A silvery triangle of light.”
We sat at a red Formica table in the window of a café on Wardour Street. Steam from our frothy coffees drifted in the cooking fat-scented air. The newspaper lay on the tabletop, its headlines screaming “Freak Storm Hits City”. David’s hand was on my thigh. I knew I should protest but his eyes were so commanding…
“I tried to touch it but it disappeared.”
“Of course.”
My voice sounded strangely distant, as if I were about to faint. There was a rushing in my ears. David’s eyes were very pale and blue and cat-like, expressionless.
“I tried to touch it.”
Strong fingers caressed my thigh. I could see the glowing triangle. It was embedded within my memory, perfectly clear. When I looked at the young man it seemed to be burned into his forehead just above his empty eyes. There was a sharp pricking sensation in my leg.
“I tried…”
When I woke, I found myself in a shop window. It was impossible to see which street the shop was on as the glass had been obliterated with white paint. My body ached and my head hurt quite badly. With a sudden jolt of shock I realized I was semi-undressed, lying on a narrow divan bed wearing just my bra and panties. The window space was decorated for Christmas, a scarlet and gold tableau of The Nutcracker. I lay on a bedspread of fake ermine.
“Good afternoon, Miss Blythe.”
A hollow, amplified voice issued from beyond the wall of the window space. I tried to sit up but felt horribly dizzy. He had drugged me, that young man with the strange pale eyes. How could I have been so foolish? My head span and I thought of white slavers. The disembodied voice continued.
“If you please, remove your brassiere.”
My heart leapt in my chest. I had met David in Soho, an area well-known for its seedy underbelly. He had brought me to some den of iniquity. Maybe he was going to sell me. But what was the window setting for? I was to be a nude live mannequin? I forced myself to sit, a series of sharp pains shooting through my head. Again, I saw the glowing triangle. It seemed to be floating a few inches from my face. When I closed my eyes, it was every bit as bright and clear.
“You have been selected, Miss Blythe. Remove your brassiere.”
I looked about the narrow, crowded space, searching for the door. There didn’t appear to be one.
“There is no way out. Do not waste your strength. Take off your bra.”
I thought of risqué photographs of myself, naked on a fur-draped divan, turning up on posters for seedy gentlemen’s clubs. What would they call me? Miss Fifi? That triangle. Oh God… The voice continued to issue instructions in a flat, expressionless tone, almost like an automaton. It was hard to believe a human spoke to me. The triangle began to spin, slowly at first, then it steadily picked up speed. I could not avoid looking at it, for it was there, no matter whether I had my eyes open or shut. It reminded me of something but I could not think what. Its pure intensity was dazzling. White heat scorched my brain, like gazing at the sun. I’m going to go blind, I thought, then I must have lost consciousness.
“You see what happens when you do not comply.”
It was a statement, not a question. I fumbled towards awareness with the hollow, cold tones of the voice ringing in my ears. Cool air rushed over my naked breasts. They had removed my brassiere. Involuntarily, I crossed my arms over my chest. My nipples felt hot, hard and strangely sticky.
“Uncover your breasts or the adhesive substance on your nipples will bond immediately to the flesh of your arms.”
I moved and my nipples stretched painfully as a few strands of a clear syrupy material stuck to my forearms. It was the consistency of newly boiled toffee. It burned. I watched in horror as it began to cool and form a thick glass-like coating over my nipples. How would I ever get that off? Within a few seconds, my nipples were diamond hard, swollen to several times their normal size and bright scarlet.
“Very nice, Miss Blythe. Very nice indeed.”
I looked down at my breasts. It had to be a dream, some drug-induced hallucination. I could not take it seriously. I had always rather liked my breasts. They were not very full but stood up perkily, the fat silky nipples pointing upwards. The perky quality had been greatly accentuated by the clear coating. Someone could easily use them for coat-pegs. I started to giggle helplessly, as if I’d been given laughing gas.
“Excellent, Miss Blythe. Now, remove your panties.”
I gasped. Was it all some wild erotic dream? My fingers strayed to the waistband of my panties. What would happen if they put the glass-like stuff down there? I hesitated.
“Remove your panties.”
The disembodied voice was relentless. Hot tears pricked at my eyes as I fumbled with the frilly nylon undergarment. Mortified, I eased the panties over my hips and down my thighs, slowly revealing a triangle of dark hair.
“Remove them completely.”
My cheeks were damp as I slid the panties over my calves and discarded them on the floor of the compartment.
“Excellent, Miss Blythe. Now lie on your back and spread your legs as wide as you can.”
Biting my bottom lip, I obeyed, unable to see an alternative to giving the unseen tormentor what he wanted. Perhaps obedience would buy me some time, some chance of escaping from whatever den of iniquity I had been kidnapped into. The fur bedcover felt incredibly soft and warm beneath my naked skin as I lay, arms stretched above my head and thighs parted, fully exposing my most private parts. It was at that moment I realized that the triangle of light had disappeared and the space was oddly silent, as if it was a vacuum. I closed my eyes and tried not to panic, terrifying imagery of being buried alive laying siege to my mind. Was it my imagination or had the “shop window” suddenly become more stifling?
When I opened my eyes, a clear patch had appeared in the white-painted plate glass before me. I watched in a blend of horror and fascination as it spread, created by a graceful female hand with long scarlet nails. The hand continued to remove the paint with a rag, using circular movements. Eventually, an arm was visible, then part of a torso, until a tall blonde woman wearing a very short almost toga-like red dress appeared on the other side of the glass. Beyond her, instead of a street or even the inside of some seedy Soho club, there was, of all things, a large shower compartment. A second woman, a brunette dressed in black, was examining the head of the shower, and looked incongruous as if ready to go to a cocktail party. I could vaguely hear the heels of her stilettos clicking on the tiled floor of the shower.
“And now, Miss Blythe, it’s time for your shower.”
The voice made me jump. This time it was a female voice yet it didn’t appear to be issuing from either of the women on the other side of the glass. There was a grating sound and the entire window slid sideways. The toga-clad blonde stretched out her hands to me. When I took them they were as cold as ice.
“Come with me.”
My legs shook uncontrollably as I moved from the divan and climbed awkwardly through the window space. Now I was in a strange clinical space, all white tiles and a smell that reminded me of a combination of hospital and something else, something very familiar that I couldn’t quite place, an odd sweetish chemical scent. The blonde led me towards the shower cubicle where the brunette waited, a vapid smile on her pretty face. A shower would be quite pleasant after everything I’d endured. It didn’t seem that it could possibly remove the crystalline substance on my nipples, however. The hard coating was pinching and I felt partly aroused and partly angry at what “they” had done to me. Was I to be part of some kind of freak show? The chemical scent was strong within the shower cubicle. The brunette stepped aside and gently maneuvered me under the head, angling it to suit my height.
“There. Stand still, please.”

She stepped outside and closed the frosted glass door. I stood, feeling strangely happy, waiting for the lovely warm water, the elegant tiles cool beneath the soles of my feet. Idly, I watched the blurred shapes of the two women moving beyond the frosted glass, one black, one red, doing what I could not tell. The chemical smell grew stronger still and, finally, I realized what it reminded me of. It was the sweet smell of PVC, the soft plastic that toys are made of.
It was then that the shower started and I gasped as what was not water but a thick viscous pink liquid began to pour over my naked body.
And now I stand in a shop window on Carnaby Street. Completely encased in plastic like a life-size doll, watching the crowds go by. Imprisoned in a full-body cast, I gaze out at the world through tinted glass eyes. My diamond-hard nipples push against the dress of the day, inviting stares and ribald laughs from young men who crouch to look up my fashionably mini skirt. I cannot move unless the window-dresser manipulates my arthritic limbs. I am, to all purposes, dead and yet, horror of horrors, still I live…

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