B.G. Hilton – Writer

Clocks and Boxes — Part 51: Exposition

Alfred  felt the smooth surface of the Watch as he wandered in the darkness. It didn’t help, not even to reassure him. But he was too afraid to try to put it back in his pocket, lest it slip from his fingers and be lost in the tunnel — if tunnel it was.

It had begun as a round, tunnel with granite walls. as the light had died, the tunnel had become square, the walls rougher. Then it had become round again, with walls clad in what felt like metal sheeting. Then the walls had become soft, with a peaty smell. Then the corridor had widened, and Alfred was almost glad he couldn’t feel the walls any more.

In the silence, Alfred heard a sudden clang. He started and tried to run, but was grabbed by a strong arm, and there was cold metal at his throat.

“Who are youse?” came a voice from the darkness.

“Alfred Pilbrook,” Alfred said. “Um, I hope you can see in the dark or something, because otherwise it’s not very safe to have a knife…”

Suddenly there was light, bright electric light. Alfred squinted, his eyes feeling like they hadn’t seen brightness in a year. When his pupils had adjusted, he looked down, to see that the implement at his throat was not a knife, as he’d imagined, but a bronze sword.

“Good-o,” he sighed.

“Oh, I know you,” came a voice from behind. “You’re that old bloke from the watch shop?”

“I’m fifty-two,” Alfred muttered.

The sword was removed and its owner stepped into the light. It was a young man with a scraggly beard. In later days, Alfred would wonder why the scraggly beard was the first thing he noticed, since the youth was wearing bronze Greecian armour and a huge plumed helmet.

“I know you! You’re the young bloke from the Handy Pavilion café,” Alfred said. “Norman, right? You’re the one we’re looking for! The one that got trapped in the Pyramid! Oh, thank goodness I found you!”

“Sweet,” Norman said, beaming through his helmet’s face-hole. “So you know the way out, yeah?”

“Oh,” Alfred said, deflating. “Yeah, no.”

“Not much of a bloody rescue, then, is it?”

“Credit for trying, eh?”

“Credit for trying? Now you’re stuck here too, and I’ll have to protect you if those… things attack again.”

“What things?”

“You’ll know ’em if you see ’em.”

“In the dark?”

“Well, you’ll know ’em if they kill you.”

“Hey, where is the light coming from?” Alfred said, trying to focus on the shape behind the powerful beams in his face.

“That’d be me,” said a voice. The lights dipped to low beam, and Alfred saw that they came from the headlights of a human/light truck hybrid.

“Oh,” Alfred said. “You must be Bruce. We were looking for you, too.”

“You mucked up my rescue too?” Bruce said. “I’m touched.”

Alfred sighed and looked around, They were in a fairly large chamber. Too large. He hadn’t felt any downward incline on his travels, so he should be near the apex of the Pyramid. A chamber of this size could exist at the bottom of the Pyramid, or even half-way up, but there was simply no room at the top.

“Spatial anomalies,” he mused. “More of Delia’s thing.”

“What do you do, then?” Norman said.

“I have a magic Watch with vaguely defined time powers,” Alfred said.

“Time and space are basically the same thing.” Bruce said. “Einstein proved that.”

This rang a bell for Alfred. “Are you a physicist?” he said.

“Electrician. Doesn’t mean I lack intellectual curiosity, but.”

“Einstein doesn’t matter in here,” Norman said, adjusting his cuirass. “We’re outside normal space and time, in the realm of…”

“Here comes the exposition,” Bruce grumbled. “Always the bloody exposition.”

Norman pursed his lips, took a deep breath and explained away.

“That’s pretty feeble,” Alfred said when he’d finished. “Besides, who cares? If these ‘Barns’, as you put it are so cosmic and awesome, doesn’t that put them on a scale so far above us that our actions…”

“Look, it doesn’t matter,” Norman said. “The important point is, the DIY Barn was a manifestation of the Barn of Shadows, but their attempt to raise a Pyramidal Node on the power of South Hertling was usurped by the Grey Barn.”

Alfred squinted as he tried to make sense of it. “Those were the evil cowboys, right?”

“Yes. Well, nah. The evil cowboy organisation C.O.W.B.O works for the Grey Barn. They serve it.”

“What Barn do we serve?” Alfred said.

“None, that I know of.”

“So,” Alfred said, scratching his bald head. “What difference does any of this make? We were trapped in a mystical Pyramid before, now all of us know the Pyramid’s backstory. How does that help?”

“That’s what I’ve been telling ‘im,” Bruce said. “But he’s been all ‘destiny this’ and ‘kismet that’ since he became a god.”

Alfred looked at Norman with suspicion. “Demigod, technically,” Norman said, blushing beneath his helmet.

“Yeah, well it’s changed you, mate,” Bruce said. “Apotheosis has changed you.”

“It’s supposed to change you,” Norman snapped. “Look, point is, I reckon we can get out of here if we can lay hold on some of those Grey Barn c— What’s that?”

Bruce turned to follow Norman’s pointing finger, turning his headlights with him. They illuminated two figures – one a stranger to Alfred, a woman in a duster and broad-brimmed hat. She was aiming an antique revolver at the head of the second woman, who Alfred recognised as…

“Delia!” he shouted.

“Now, don’t nobody move, nohow,” said the strange woman. But she said it a little late. Bruce’s rocket launchers were already pointed at her.

“Reckon we got a standoff,” she said.

“Don’t listen to her! Blow her to pieces!” Delia said.

“Uh,” Norman said.

“What?” Bruce said.

“Delia!” Alfred said. In spite of everything, he couldn’t help being slightly pleased at being the one who had said the most intelligent thing. Next step was doing something intelligent, and there he was on thinner ground…

And then the inside of the Pyramid started to flood.

Next — Part 52: Nope

Previously — Part 50: Now

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