‘Thank you for coming at such short notice, Dr Connelly,’ said Dr Smith, a short, round man with wispy white hair that resembled candy floss. He held his clammy hand out to greet the trouser-suited brunette in the dim-lit reception where a thick blanket of dust lay upon every surface. The pungent smell of two-week old moldy bread mixed with the Sandalwood aftershave Dr Smith wore, reminded her of 1980s magazine perfume pulls-outs.
‘Please, call me Hazel.’ She put her hand in his, then subtly wiped the residual sweat from his hand on the crushed velvet drape that hung at the opening of the corridor. ‘It is very —’
‘Dated, I know. We are not funded. More of a…I guess…place for the lost. No one knows what to do with these people. We don’t advertise, or ask for sponsors…I suppose we are as lost as they are.’ Dr Smith said. He led Hazel down a cold, damp, stone corridor lit by a line of naked bulbs hanging from the ceiling that were all connected by cobwebs. ‘I asked you here as we have quite the peculiar patient.’
‘I received his file; he self-presented?’
‘Yes, he turned up asking to be admitted,’ Dr Smith said with a sigh, ‘We refused, but he was insistent, saying he would harm himself We do not need that sort of publicity.’
‘And he goes by the name of…’ Hazel flicked through the papers in a brown card file in her hand.
‘Nine. He calls himself, Nine,’ he said and stopped outside a closed door. He rested his hands on his rotund waist. ‘We don’t lock the door; he is aware he can leave at anytime…I thought getting a woman in would – perhaps – coax him out since he is hostile to my male colleagues.’
‘Dr Smith, I hope you have not brought me here just because I am a woman, rather than for my professional abilities?’
‘Well, it was a factor but…’ he paused and scratched his head, ‘I heard you had met someone like this patient before.’
‘A long time ago, as a case study when I was an undergraduate. Life gets in the way and I don’t remember much.’ She placed her hand on the door handle. ‘Shall I go in?’
‘Best knock first, he is a bit of a…’ Dr Smith tapped on the wood with his knuckles, ‘well…he likes good manners.’ He opened the door and held his arm out inviting Hazel to walk in first. ‘Someone to see you.’
Hazel stopped to observe the tall, skinny man whose angular shoulders looked like they were hung up by a coat hanger. He wore crimson full body long johns, and his pill-box red hair was on end like he had stuck a metal fork into a plug socket. He balanced with his left knee bent and his foot held in his right hand, staring at a white-washed wall drawn over with grey and black symbols and mappings of constellations. He pressed a grey-blue rock against his pursed lips with his left hand.
‘I’ll leave you two alone,’ Dr Smith backed out the door ‘he is mostly harmless.’
She meandered to the table along the wall behind him. A tray of uneaten food, a mixture of salad, rice, and sweet potato, was all that rested on top of the heavily scratched varnished surface. The sparse room had a high ceiling and original decorative Victorian coving. The minimal antique furniture, a single bed, wardrobe, and table, left the room bleak, only the late summer sunlight that flooded the room through the large sash window provided some warmth.
The man put his foot to the floor and turned to face her and grinned. ‘Sit!’ He skipped to the wooden chair under the table and pulled it out, his wide-eyed expression expectant as he waited. Hazel slowly and uncomfortably lowered herself into the chair, not wanting to upset her subject so soon. There was an aroma of Cinnamon as he stood close, reminding her of Danish pastries and how she regretted passing on breakfast this morning. He returned to his one footed position in front of the wall, silently.
‘What is the purpose of your drawings?’ Hazel said.
‘To remember.’ His soft accent was typical of the Thames estuary, nothing abnormal for the area.
‘Do you have a problem with remembering?’
Nine clutched the rock in his palm and turned abruptly to face her.
‘The outside is made for forgetting…all the sad people hypnotised by an electronic reproduction of life, and little light screens in their palms,’ he leapt up onto the bed and perched on the edge like a bird, ‘Quantity is the new divinity, and advertising its liturgy!’ he said with his arms wide. He jumped down to the floor and crouched, running his forefinger through the dust on the floorboards. ‘On Earth, you are made to forget why you are here. Distractions, fear, anger, division, hate, the need for more…quantity…I’m here…away from that…to remember.’ His smile lowered in thought.
‘What is it you are trying to remember?’ she said. She crossed her legs and folded her arms. Nine continued to draw spiral dust doodles with his fingers.
‘How to get home.’ he said with a solemn expression.
‘Where is home?’
Nine stood up straight and bounced over to the wall. He pointed to a black mark amongst many others, ‘Here…a little star in the constellation of Pleiades. It is peaceful there.’
‘So, you say, you are not from Earth?’ Hazel sat back in the chair gazing at his childlike grin and his milky white complexion. ‘Why do you look so…human?’
‘This body? It is not mine,’ he stepped closer to her and dropped to the floor near her feet and sat in the lotus position. ‘We are planted in hosts and given their memories – like revision – deftly inserted thought packets’, he tapped his forefinger on his temple. ‘I know this body, at ten years had a paint pot fall on its head.’ He parted his hairline near his temple to show the scar. ‘This body aged twenty-five was married…’
‘No, I’m not…the owner of this body is.’
‘Where is the owner? Can I talk to them?’
Nine sat silently.
‘Nine, can I speak with him?’
‘What is two plus two?’ He said, narrowing his eyes as he glared at her. It was when she noticed one of his eyes was blue, the other green.
‘Two plus two? It is four.’
‘How do you know?’
‘Because it is.’
‘It is hearsay…everything you know is hearsay,’ Nine stood and strolled to the large sash window that had been nailed shut. ‘Who decided on these numbers? It has just been passed down, one generation at a time and you just accept it, unquestionably, as fact…. when it is really just hearsay.’
‘It is simple maths.’
‘No, it is memory. You go to school to just remember things in books to pass an exam…. You are all born as candidates for humanity. You prepare for nursery, prepare for infant school, for primary, secondary, college, university, work, promotion…. on this carousel of preparation and never get anywhere…and then the carousel stops, and you just die and you start again. Everything you prepared for is a hoax, memories are not real, that is why you all take photos to prove a memory exists…but that’s a hoax too. Photos, books, film, people…all an unstable narrative,’ he said, his lively persona now cold and distant. ‘This body, it is so fragile…’ he looked over his shoulder to her still seated in the chair. ‘Did you know the heart is only attached to the thoracic cavity by one, small tendon?’
‘Perhaps you should look after it better by eating your dinner.’ Hazel said. She stood up and stepped over to the table. ‘It looks very…appetising.’
Nine turned away from the window. Rim-lit by the fading sunlight, with his angular body and intense stare, he looked ethereal. ‘Food distracts my mind; I have no need for it.’
‘But the body you’re in does…I could see if there is anything else, something a bit meatier.’
‘Why would I chew on flesh and suck on the entrails of those who still remember their purpose here? Why punish them for my own misgivings?’
‘Regardless, you need sustenance.’
‘I was planted in this body two weeks ago, it has served me well,’ Nine walked forward and stood beside her bringing with him the cinnamon aroma. He slowly picked through the plate of food and selected a cube of cooked sweet potato. He put it in his mouth, and as he chewed he stared at Hazel like an unhappy child being forced to eat. Nine swallowed the potato and opened his mouth to prove he had eaten it.
‘Well done,’ she said, smiling at his childlike naivety. ‘Can I ask, why are you called Nine?’
‘Yes, I am part of a collective consciousness of Nine…’ he paused as though he was listening to something, ‘Your heart beats fast…do I scare you?’
‘No, but you are displaying —’
‘Display?’ he abruptly switched from sedate to theatrical and jumped up onto the spring bed, ‘Dis – play? Dis? A prefix having a negative connotation, like dis-please, dis-ease…. Do you see me as negative, as a dis-being?’
Hazel folded her arms, ‘No, quite the opposite.’
‘You are not going to send me out there with the sad people, the lobotomised,’ he perched at the end of the bed. ‘I’d rather stay here than perish with the sad men who roam freely…. I’ll scream, I’ll break these arms, I’ll do me some harm – if you send me out there.’
‘But, this place is for those who are…well…considered mad.’
‘We are all mad. I call those who acknowledge it philosophers.’ he jumped down onto the floor. ‘Words should not have been gifted to mankind…. they spell words, like they cast spells, and the intention is usually a curse, not for love or joy with what their purpose was meant for.’ Nine walked up to the wall and drew a line connecting two stars together, stood back and balanced on one foot.
‘Then this place is no place for a philosopher.’ she walked forward and stood beside him, her gaze flickered across the scribbling on the wall in awe at the patterns, details, and symbols that made no sense to her, yet she was aware they meant ‘something’.
‘I know why you are here,’ He lowered his foot to the floor, ‘You are Dr Hazel Connelly, mid-thirties, childless and estranged from your wandering husband…you focused on your work rather than face up to his betrayal and, you fear you were sent here because of the one thing that you always feel holds you back, which is being a woman.’
‘How dare you! You are rude, and you are very wrong!’ Hazel walked to the chair and picked up the file, eager to leave the room. ‘You can stay here, I don’t care.’ She stepped towards the door.
‘You’re wrong,’ Nine said without averting his gaze from the wall. ‘You do care.’ He turned to her and smiled. “You were sent to get me out of here, and you came…like you have done before.’
‘No, I was sent here because you are costing them money and you’re hostile towards men. I am just a token woman they brought in,’ She rubbed her forehead. ‘I don’t know why I said that. It was very unprofessional…I am just…I have forgotten everything from before.’
‘Don’t be hard on yourself, others do that for you so you don’t have to. Woman, whether human, cow, pig, dog….is the only creature that can create a new consciousness from within…a gateway from another world…Men know your power and oppress it, but now they have forgotten why they oppress you, like being told two plus two is four. They have all forgotten its origins.’
Hazel dropped the file back on the chair, sighed, and stood beside him. She looked up to his high cheekbones and deep set eyes, ‘So, what is it you need to remember?’
‘Coordinates. Once I remember, I can go home.’ He lifted the rock to his lips, ‘And he can have his body back.’
‘So, you are from some other planet…’
‘A star? How did you get here?’
‘By consciousness. There are many things you cannot see that are here…just because your human eyes cannot see something, does not mean it does not exist…. your eyes are apertures to a whole universe, if you choose to see it.’
‘Okay, if you travel by consciousness, then why can you not travel back that way?’
‘Because, you cannot leave until you have completed your task…but they don’t want you to leave, thus, they make you forget why you ever came here.’
‘How close are you to completing your task?’
‘I am just missing one coordinate,’ He taps the rock against his lips, ‘I am cut off from my collective when I am here, on this planet.’
‘So…’ she said with apprehension, ‘how many of you on Earth?’
Nine smiled, ‘Many,’ he turned to face her. ‘Do you ever get the feeling of wanting to go home, but you don’t know where home is, like you don’t belong here?’
Hazel furrowed her brow, ‘Sometimes, but we all have those moments of —’
‘We both belong somewhere else – but it is the journey there that makes it play, not the arrival…I came back as I promised I would.’ Nine walked forward, ‘Many of the other patients here are those who have been trapped on this planet for too many lifetimes. That is why I’d rather play here in this building. I am quite content they’re all as sane as me,’ he said with an enthusiastic grin and he bowed with his arms outstretched.
There were three knocks at the door before it opened to Dr Smith standing boldly at the entrance.
‘How is everything going in here?’
‘Good,’ Hazel stepped away from Nine and meandered over to Dr Smith, ‘although, I think he does need to stay for a bit longer. As you said, you wouldn’t want anyone to come to any harm.’ She looked back over to Nine who stood staring at the wall with his foot in his hand and a subtle smile on his face. He coyly glanced in her direction.
‘I see. Yes, if that is what you think best,’ he rested his hands on his belt line. ‘I came to say that your lift to the station is here.’
‘I’d like to come back tomorrow, for more assessment, if that is okay?’
‘Oh, yes…Well…best ask our guest.’
Nine put his foot down and stepped closer to Hazel and smiled, ‘Yes…yes, I’d like that a lot.’
‘That is settled then. Progress at last!’ Dr Smith said whilst he ushered Hazel through the door. ‘What time is your train due in tomorrow?’
‘I’ll get the 11:11 train.’
The door closed.
Nine stood quietly with a furrowed brow tapping the rock against his lips. He turned to face the wall, his gaze flickered across the connecting lines, the symbols, the empty gap for the missing coordinate. His face slowly lit up with a wide grin as a synapses took place.
’11:11,’ he said walking to the wall with the rock in his left hand ready to write.
‘Dr Connelly, I’m glad you are here so soon.’ Dr Smith skipped the clammy handshake. ‘Something very strange has occurred.’ He rubbed the nape of his neck and shuffled quickly through the velvet drapes.
‘Is Nine okay?’ Hazel increased her pace to keep up with him.
‘This morning on our checks, we found him…’ he stopped at the entrance to the room, ‘like this…’ he opened the door.
Hazel stepped in and paused. Sat on the bed was Nine, dressed in the clothes he had arrived in; a brown suit with a light blue tie. His fair hair combed and his demeanor lacking in the childlike vivacity that she had seen the day before.
‘Hello,’ he said, ‘have you come to release me?’
‘Do you want to leave?’ she said, shocked by how much older the man now looked. Her gaze drifted to the defined scar on his temple. She breathed in slowly, unable to smell any hint of cinnamon.
‘I’m quite confused why I am here.’ He stood up and looked at her, his eyes both blue. ‘I would like to just get back home now.’
‘And tell us your name and address.’ Dr Smith said.
‘My name is Thomas Major, and I live at 9 Sun Crescent.’
‘Quite a turn around, don’t you think?’ Dr Smith said with a chuckle.
‘Wait,’ Hazel walked past Thomas and stood looking at the wall, ‘where is the map?’ The wall was bare, no markings, just white wash.
‘It does not matter, we have the result we wanted and no need to get maintenance in.’
‘Excuse me,’ Thomas stood at the table, ‘are you Dr Connelly?’
‘Yes.’ She continued staring at the wall.
‘This was on the table.’ He said holding a bulky brown envelope with her name written on it.
Hazel turned and frowned. She took the envelope and apprehensively opened it. Inside was the rock and torn off white paper; written on it with red ink was, take this for when you remember your coordinates home. Hazel smiled.
‘A rock?’ Thomas said.
‘It’s not just any rock,’ she said quietly, ‘it is Preseli bluestone…I remember, a connection to another world.’
‘I’m very hungry.’ Thomas said. ‘Is there something I can eat? Something like a burger, chips, perhaps a steak…’
‘I am sure we can find something for you.’ Dr Smith led him out the room leaving Hazel behind. ‘First I will inform your next of kin of your rapid progress.’
Hazel stood in the empty room, her gaze lingered on the blank wall where Nine’s map had been. ‘You made it,’ she said with sigh. She opened her palm and stared at the rock. ‘Help me remember.’ Hazel hastily kicked her heeled shoes off and lifted one foot off the floor and held in her opposite hand. After stumbling a few times, she gradually regained her balance. She stared at the wall, with the stone pressed against her lips, she was eager to remember. Hazel took a deep breath in and smelt a strong scent of cinnamon pass through the room, with this she recalled her first co-ordinate home,
Jo fled the emergency ambulance service several years ago to venture into a career in writing. She is currently finishing a BA hons at Greenwich university in London, and has already had a play performed professionally in the city. She mostly writes magical realism as life is magic, if we look closely enough.