Extracts torn from forgotten books
by David Bussell
When James regained consciousness, he found himself naked but for a baby’s nappy. He wasn’t certain how he came to be that way, neither was he certain how he’d ended up falling asleep on a traffic island, but the throbbing in his skull told him alcohol was a likely factor.
No sooner had James lifted his head from the scrub than he was met by a pair of peculiar figures. They were dressed respectably, despite their outfits being dilapidated and hopelessly out of fashion. Indeed, James couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen a black suit with ivory piped lapels paired with a black polo neck, let alone two black suits with ivory piped lapels paired with two black polo necks.
“Are you alright?” asked one of the strangers. “We found you bound to the lamp post there by plastic film.”
Of course, James remembered – last night was his stag do. “Where am I?” he asked.
The smaller of the two stepped forward – not just small, James realised now, but midget small, or whatever the polite expression for that was these days.
The midget spoke. “You are on… The Island.”
“You must conserve your energy,” said his taller companion. “Here, drink this…”
The man put a bottle to James’ mouth and tipped but James spat out the foul-tasting beverage the second it hit his lips.
“Is that cider?” James spluttered, his student days coming screaming back at him.
“To restore your vitality. For protein we have sparrow’s eggs. Here, fresh from the nest today.”
“Listen,” said James, “I appreciate your help but I have to get going.”
“Nobody leaves… The Island,” said the taller of the two. “It is a forgotten place of secrets – of danger – where nothing and no one are as they seem.”
“Okey doke,” said James, considering the quickest and politest way to escape these loony tramps.
“Allow us to introduce ourselves,” said the small man. “I am Number 7 and my companion here is Number 9.”
“You must be freezing,” the tall man said to James. “Take this blazer.”
James demurred at first, but he was cold in just his nappy so he slipped on the jacket. There was a badge fixed to the lapel. It bore a number 6.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“Your number,” the midget told him.
James wasn’t having any of that. “I’m not a number, I’m a…”
“…free man?” said the midget. “Yes, we hear a lot of that.”
“I was going to say ‘baker,’” said James. “At Greggs.”
“Oh,” replied the midget.
The driver of a passing van wound down his window to momentarily interrupt the conversation. “Wankers!” said he.
“I don’t understand,” said James, ignoring the van driver, who’d taken the exit to Chessington. “Why are you acting like you’re prisoners here?”
“Because we are prisoners,” the tall man answered. “Prisoners because we know something.”
The small man spoke first. “Many years ago I discovered a way to skip the anti-piracy notice at the beginning of DVDs.”
“And I invented a recipe for a four bean soup,” said the tall man.
“Okay, but what makes you think I know something?” asked James. “I don’t know anything – I work at Greggs.”
“You must know something,” said the midget. “Think, man!”
“Well… I suppose I know what goes in the Greggs Steak Bake.”
The strangers’ eyes widened. That was it.
James had had enough. “Look,” he said, “today’s my wedding and I’m running late…”
“Don’t you get it, Number 6?” said the tall man. “There is no escape from… The Island.”
“What are you talking about – there’s a 187 bus on its way round right now.”
James pushed past the men and made good with his legs in the direction of the bus stop.
“Come back, you fool!” they yelled after him. “Come back!”
James was running still when he heard a muffled roar and looked over his shoulder in time to see an object bobbing after him at speed. A balloon of some sort. No, not a balloon, a bag. A shopping bag from Bargain Booze.
James barely had time to scream as the bag engulfed his head and dragged him to the ground. The last thing he saw before he passed out from suffocation was a vision of his fiancé stood alone at the altar.
When Number 6 regained consciousness he found himself on a small traffic island with a cider in his hand. This time he knew exactly how he’d come to be that way. After all, there was no escaping… The Island.