Actions

Work Header

back on my beat

Work Text:

[recorder clicks]

Statement of Martin Blackwood, archival assistant at the Magnus Institute. Statement taken direct from subject concerning...er...concerning something worth giving a statement about, I suppose.

Statement given on - oh, bollocks, what's the date? Well, it's half-three in the morning on...right, 27th September, 2017.

Statement begins.

[pause]

Oh, Lord, I don't know where to start. I mean, I suppose - well, I had this theory, and - no, that's not...that's a bad place to start. Well, I guess -

God, I probably shouldn't be doing this while I'm still drunk. Not - well that wasn't a great thing to say on a work statement for your boss, Martin, get it together - I'm not that drunk, I swear, and it's relevant. Ish.

'Cause I went to this sort of - well, every now and then I go to these poetry open mic nights, right? The poetry usually isn't all that great, but that isn't the point, is it, it's about...all of us all being there for the same thing, being passionate about the same thing, coming together to build a community sort of thing. And arguing over whether rupi kaur is overrated. That gets heated sometimes.

But that's not the point. The point is that since I've been on leave, I've been going more frequently, just to, you know, have something to do. Make sure I don't stay cooped up in my flat, obsessing about you and Elias and everything that happened at Yarmouth and, I don't know, turn into a hermit, or worse, Tim.

That was probably mean, wasn't it. Oh well. It's true.

Anyway, I was at this poetry reading and I saw this man that I'd seen at a few other of these, and he was putting up adverts. I got a bit curious, and, well, then I had this idea that - that still doesn't matter yet. It was an advert for a - God this sounds stupid - a dance party. And I got talking to the bloke putting them up, and he, well, he encouraged me to go. Said it was a lot of fun.

So...I did. I went to this dance party, and - okay, it wasn't just a dance party. It was a themed dance party at a club. A gay club. And...a Carly Rae Jepsen-themed dance party.

Now, I know what you're thinking, and yes, she's the Call Me Maybe one, but she's also, hand to God, a gay icon. Not even joking. So I didn't think it was weird. It's not, well, obviously it's not the sort of thing that I would normally do, but I figured...why not? And I - well, I wanted to see what would happen.

So I went. It was dark in the club, with sticky floors and the sort of close atmosphere that comes from too many people in too small a place, like you can smell on the air that you're going to be bumped into and jostled all night, but I got a drink - all right, more than one over the course of the night, obviously since it's half-three and I'm still - but I sort of picked a corner and thought I'd just watch for a bit and see what happened? 'Cause I don't usually do this sort of thing, you know? I'm not a dance party person. Come to think of it, I think this might've been my first. Definitely my first Carly Rae Jepsen themed one, I'll tell you that.

And there were a lot of people there, like, a lot, and it was - I mean, I don't know what I was expecting out of a gay club, but it was actually really...normal? I think? Sure, there was glitter, and whoever did the lights was clearly very enthusiastic about their job, with all the colors and the flashing, and I'm not sure if the smoke machine was strictly necessary, but it wasn't, I don't know, shirtless men in chaps or whatever. And there were people just hanging out at the bar, chatting and laughing, and probably a few of them didn't even dance at all.

I'd planned to be one of them, to be honest, but, well, Samarth saw me there.

Oh, Samarth is - was the one who put the adverts up at the open mic. So he recognized me and I recognized him and we struck up a conversation and...

I really didn't mean to dance. I don't dance, not really. I mean, look at me. I drink cups of tea and spellcheck my paperwork three times before turning it in and wear sweater vests. But we'd been talking for a while and Samarth leaned in towards me and said, as quietly as he could've with me still hearing, he said...

"Why not?"

And then it was like - like my body decided before I did. All of a sudden I was slamming the rest of my drink and heading out to the dance floor with Samarth and just sort of...moving. It didn't even make a lot of sense to me, and I have no idea whether whatever my limbs were doing had anything to do with the rhythm, but...nobody was looking at me. Nobody stared or made faces at me or anything, although it wasn't like they didn't see me, either, because every now and then someone would make eye contact and just grin at me with this...this wild sort of abandon, I guess. And everyone was moving together, like the whole dance floor had a single pulse but also the pulse was a bassline. There was this - this energy, just all through me, reckless and jittering and just - just relentless, and everything smelled of fresh sweat and spilled alcohol and at some point I definitely got margarita poured down my back and I didn't even notice until I was on my way home, but, Christ, now I can definitely smell it. And feel it.

I should probably change.

I'll do it after I finish.

Anyway - anyway, right, we were dancing. And normally I don't really like...contact? Not with strangers, at least, but neither of my parents were very expressive growing up. Physically, at least. So I never really got used to it. But there were so many people and, God, I must've brushed up against all of them by the end of the night, or maybe tipped over into them or accidentally jumped on their feet, and just - none of it bothered me.

And Samarth was there the whole time. I mean, obviously. Where else was he going to be? But he was there, with me, dancing with me except when I was, you know, going to get another drink or whatever. I don't know if he left the dance floor once he got on it, to be honest, and his whole face was sheened with sweat and this look in his eyes was just...exultant, I guess. Like he'd been completely taken out of himself.

And I think...I was, too? At least, between the drums and the bass and just how loud it was, surrounded by music everywhere until it almost - almost made the air shiver, like it was more solid than regular air, to the point where I felt it in my lungs, shaking me from the inside. It seemed like everyone knew the word to every single song, and sometimes I found myself singing along to songs I hadn't even realized I remembered, because - well, I don't listen to much pop music, especially since I came down to the Archives. Back when I was just a research clerk, Lisa had the radio on a lot and her desk was just across from mine, but - I'm getting off the point.

The point is that the music just rose all around me, blocking everything else out like I was at the bottom of a canyon of sound, and nothing else could get to me. Nothing could get in. Not - not any worries about you or the Archives, not the grief, not the feeling like I'd catch a glance of a worm out of the corner of my eye at any moment if I got too comfortable. I think it helped that I was so exhausted. I'm - like I said, I'm not a big dancer, and, well, it's not even tomorrow yet and my feet are throbbing and I can't figure out why my ankles are sore, how do you get sore ankles from dancing? Not ballet or anything, but just dancing in a club? It's ridiculous.

But - but I'm smiling as I say it? I'm still smiling now. It was hours ago, but I can't stop smiling, and I still feel the beat in my blood.

Anyway, of course, since it was a Carly Rae Jepsen themed party, they played the song.

Everyone lost their damn minds, Jon, I swear to God. It even blocked out most of the music, between the thudding from everyone jumping up and down - like they were trying to make a mosh pit to Call Me Maybe, and they did it - and of course the singing. Apparently I know the words. I didn't realize I did, but, well, Lisa really hated that song and Malik got really cross at her about when it got really popular, and - let's just say Elias didn't have to step in, but it escalated way more than it should've. And apparently I heard it so many times I learned the words.

So I sang too, and I was singing the same song as everyone else, some stupid one-hit wonder from - when did it even come out? Doesn't matter. The point is, it's - I didn't really feel like a...a person anymore? I was just a mouth and tongue and set of lungs, belting out the same song as all the other mouths, and a set of feet jumping, and the rest of me wasn't a body but a feeling and that feeling was that everyone else was feeling the exact same thing that I was feeling at that moment, and there was no space left to feel anything else...to feel afraid. No nerves free to be anxious. Strangers, complete strangers, pointed at me if the song said "you" and I pointed back at them and we laughed together over the song as if we knew each other even though we didn't, but we knew the song, and that was sort of the same thing?

Looking back, it's - it's bizarre, to be honest. And surprisingly difficult on the stomach. I didn't realize how much you use your - your abs when you're belting out a song you barely know. Go figure.

It eventually ended, of course, and then it was some - I think it was Rihanna? I don't know. But I stayed, and I kept dancing, and Samarth kept dancing with me, and I barely registered that time was passing at all until the last time I went to get a drink. Water, it was water by then, because I was so thirsty and I had had enough that I could tell that I was going to - well, will have an awful hangover tomorrow, despite my best efforts. But then all of a sudden it hit me, how tired I was and how sore and how late it was.

Samarth followed me, and he leaned in again and it sounded like a whisper even though it was probably a shout, but he told me - well, he asked me if I wanted to come back to his flat for a drink.

[pause]

Of course I knew what it meant. And that's not - again, I can't say this enough, I don't do that sort of thing. But I did. His flat was just a few blocks away, and we stumbled over there and had another drink, and we chatted for a bit. Or, well, honestly, I talked a lot. I don't remember the last time I talked that much. At least, when it was my words I was saying and not, you know, a statement. Talking that much seems - I think about it, and then I think about, you know, the Institute and the job and the person I've been for the past few years, and it's just - how is that the same person who talked that much? It doesn't feel like the same person. I don't feel like the same person.

[pause]

You know, I've just realized how this sounds, so I should - this doesn't end with Samarth exploding into worms, or secretly being a spider or a vampire, or any of that. He's just a bloke, and nobody dies in this story. I maybe should've said that earlier. I just mean that I somehow, without realizing it, started thinking of myself as the sort of person who couldn't chat. Who couldn't go out and dance, or sing, or have too much to drink and go home with a stranger and just pour my soul out.

Not that - I mean, Samarth and I, I wasn't just talking at him. He talked to me, too. We talked about - hell, we talked about a lot, and almost none of it was anything important. Just the best places to get a curry by each of the cafes with open mics, and the best neighborhoods in London, and Instagram poetry, and - and eventually, yeah, we talked about some things that were maybe sort of important, but it felt so comfortable it didn't feel important? Because, well, we started talking about...family. And Samarth isn't...he never came out to his, and he doesn't plan to. And I, God, of course I don't want a relationship. I'm not bloody stupid. With this job? No. But neither of us want that, so it - I mean, it made sense to - there was nothing to stop us from -

You know what? I'm just going to say it. We went to bed together.

[pause]

I thought saying it would feel...I don't know. This isn't what I expected. Or maybe it is, I suppose.

I should wrap it up, shouldn't I?

It was - I mean, the whole night was so completely foreign to anything I'd normally do, and you know what? It was fine. No, it was - it was more than fine. It was good. I enjoyed myself. I had fun. Hell, I was happy. And as far as I know, nobody died. I might even do it again.

Statement...ends, I guess.

[pause]

Huh. Don't know what I expected.

[pause]

The more I think about it, the more I think I might even drag Basira and Melanie with me next time. They'd hate it. Is it weird that that makes me want to do it more?

I just mean that so many of the statements we read are just - well, they're just horrifying. They're awful, they're the worst moments of someone's life, they're things that nothing in anyone's life has ever prepared us to comprehend. And those are the ones we remember, right? Because they stay with us.

Because we don't think about the boring ones, do we? Like - like case number - oh, there's no way I'm going to be able to remember case numbers off the top of my head, but you know the ones that I'm talking about. The ones where they won't record digitally, but as soon as we take them, we still know they were a waste of bloody time. The person who saw something - something uncanny and thought, hey, that's weird, and then they just walked away. The ones who - did I tell you about - what am I talking about, you listen to all the tapes, so you know which one I'm talking about. The girl who saw the ghost in her flat? The burning ghost? And she just moved out. It was just that easy, that simple. No spooky stuff, just a "no, thank you" and she went on her way. I looked up on her, you know. Just in case she, I don't know, spontaneously combusted in a Tesco one day.

She hasn't. If you were wondering. She's a barista now, apparently, and the most interesting thing that's happened to her since was when she filed a witness statement to the police for a case of public urination on the Tube.

And it makes me wonder. I know there's a point of - of no return, where whoever's giving the statement is basically doomed, and God knows we've all probably been there since we signed our job contracts. But...well, lots of things can doom a person, right? Car accidents. Old age. E. coli. Ha, heart disease, how many statements do we get about heart disease? None. There's a, a whatsit, a - a selection bias in the statements we get, and on top of that there's just the bias that we only remember the especially bad ones. But that doesn't mean they're all that exist.

And - and you know what, for that matter, I'm not entirely convinced that the Powers are all that, either. Which of the Powers has got the fear of the economic consequences of Brexit, hmm? Which one's responsible for late stage capitalism, or climate change, or whatever the Americans have gotten up to, or fear of showing up naked to an exam? There are too many nightmares for that one to just not count as a fear.

[pause]

All right, actually, that one's probably Beholding. Like. A lot of Beholding.

But here's what I think. I think it's all well and good to have these primordial fears that sprung from our distant ancestors, from back before language and fire and whatever, but I don't think any of them hold a candle to what we do to ourselves. The stupid decisions that we make.

I just - I keep thinking about Tim, yeah? I know the Stranger got Tim's brother, but it wasn't the Stranger that got Tim. Hell, I don't even think it was working here that did it, though I know he'd disagree. He did it to himself. I'm not - not calling him a coward or a bad person or anything - although, screw it, I'm drunk enough to admit that yeah, you know what, I'm angry at him - because there was a moment where he made a decision, and that decision was that he didn't care if he destroyed himself. That he wanted to. Then he just kept doubling down on it until it finally took. There's not a Power that can do that. That's just people. That's just Tim, being a selfish, self-destructive prat. Even if I do miss him.

God knows why, though.

So - right, so I made a decision too. And that decision was that I'm going to...try. To be happy. To do things that feel nice. Even if they're stupid, even if they feel useless, even if they don't make a single damn difference in the grand scheme of the universe, because you know what? I don't care. They make a difference to me. No matter how many people made of wax or magical comas or Eliases happen in the future, I still went out tonight. I had a good time. I made a - a friend. I mean - you know what I mean. It happened. It mattered. It matters.

And then I record this and - oh, God, I never actually told you my theory, did I? Well, here it is: the thing that the Institute serves, this Beholding , it's supposed to care about knowledge, right? Getting every bit of knowledge, every experience, seeing everything and being damn annoying about it. And these tapes, they feed it, yeah? I mean, we've all figured that out, right? Cassettes don't just turn themselves on.

My theory was that that's a load of crap. And I was right. The Beholding is - is a picky eater. I know what it feels like to give a statement, a proper statement, maybe even a capital-s Statement, and I've felt it even when I didn't know that's what it was, even before I've seen that the recorder's turned itself on yet again. So I wanted to see what the Beholding thought of - of something nice. A good night. Because if it's the all-seeing eye, the omniscient Panopticon of our literal nightmares, then it should want the good as well as the bad, yeah?

Yeah. It doesn't. Gave that whole statement and didn't feel a thing. Whatever it's doing, it wasn't listening to me. All I can think about is - and I know this is stupid - but it's like the Eye is just some horror movie blogger that thinks that the Saw movies are the height of cinema because nothing else really "captures the human condition." God, what rubbish. Shut up and watch a romcom.

So - so I'm just going to, I don't know, keep dancing. Drink cups of tea. Argue about Great British Bake-Off. Read more of my poetry. Call Samarth, if - well. And you know what, I think I'll drag Basira and Melanie with me, even if they're kicking and screaming.

There's a line of poetry that I keep thinking of. It's not mine, but it - it's by Jack Gilbert. I read it years ago and it just...stuck with me, so much that I memorized it, even though the slant rhymes are really a bit much.

"We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world."

So...there we are, I suppose. "Ruthless furnace" seems a bit of an understatement, but that's it, really. It's a ruthless furnace and I might as well be stubborn so I can be glad.

And I...well, if this isn't one of those statements then I don't know if you'll actually listen to this, Jon. I might just file it anyway. Is that a bad idea? It's probably a bad idea, right, to deliberately antagonize the supernatural fear entity that you sort of work for and definitely are a hostage of? Or, I don't know, maybe it'll come around on Carly Rae.

Anyway, I hope you do listen, Jon. I don't care if it's stupid or naïve. I do genuinely want us all to be happy. God knows it won't be easy and, Christ, we haven't got a very good chance at it, but I suppose all that's left is to try. Right?

[pause]

I guess...recording ends.

[A light thump, like someone missing a button on a cassette recorder; then mild humming of Call Me Maybe, growing more distant over the sound of receding footsteps; then silence until the end of the tape.]