How Ernie Borg had found himself sat on the very top of a pyramid in Morocco was quite beyond him, and indeed beyond the investigating officers from both the local police and Interpol along with a helicopter pilot and of course the coroner, whose job it was not to inquire as to how a body arrived at its final resting place but rather how it managed to get itself in such a state.
One person was far more baffled than the others in the group of people investigating the murder and that was of course Ernie himself who at the moment his body was rolled into a freezer in the morgue was hovering twenty feet in the air and staring through his bedroom window where he finally had the evidence he needed to have it out with his wife about her schlepping the local councillor. He took a moment to consider how typical it was that he was just about too late to do anything about it.
He reached out and rattled his knuckles against the bedroom window angrily, but they simply sank through the glass. It was an odd and relatively new sensation to Ernie, but one he was almost familiar with. It was similar to the feeling that he had dreamt of many times – sticking out a fist in a fight but having no strength at all, or the time he woke up and got out of bed to go for a wee only to realise both of his legs were still asleep and dancing oddly across the landing trying not to wet himself.
Sighing, he let his body sink down to the ground and walked through the back door of what was once his house, through the small kitchen and into the living room.
He sat in his chair and looked up at the patch of damp in the top corner of the room. He noted to himself that it seemed to be spreading and would need painting over again soon.
Not that it was his problem anymore.
Bump, bump, bumpbumpbump.
His train of thought was disrupted by the feral call of Councillor Tony Harris who exclaimed at the top of his lungs “Gross Domestic Product is the basic measure of country’s overall economic output!” signalling that he was entirely satisfied and ready for a glass of orange cordial.
Sitting on top of New York Pizza Mark David’s small, poorly lit office was a bit of a mess. Paperwork lay strewn across the cheap flat pack desk with the waste paper basket overflowing with balled up sheets, Mars bar wrappers and polystyrene cups. The dark green patterned carpet was frayed so badly at the doorway that led from the reception area into the main office space that the door no longer closed properly. The windows could probably do with a wash, too, but he had been putting that off excusing it as pointless considering the tree outside was so overgrown no sunlight would get through the window even if you could see through it.
Mark held the receiver of his rotary telephone to his ear with the help of his shoulder, leaving his hands free to tap away at his smartphone.
“Yes mister Johnson, but regardless of the fact that she wasn’t actually shagging the gardener, I was still the one that spent a lot of time finding that out.
“Well, yes, I suppose—
“Ah, that. Well. That’s erm…”
He placed the smartphone down on his desk and sat up straight in his seat.
“Well, the only real way of me knowing whether or not she was, as you had expected, carrying out acts of infidelity was, as you can imagine, to try it on with her directly owing to the fact that she always had her curtains closed.
“Well, I suppose three times was a bit much but—
“I understand but—
“Well how about a slight discount as a gesture of good will?
The door leading from the reception area was being jostled with from the outside. Through the frosted glass window Mark could see a middle aged man pressing his shoulder up against the door pushing it along the threaded carpet floor.
“Mister Johnson, I’ll have to call you back, something incredibly pressing has just come up.”
Mark tossed the receiver down onto the base and hopped to his feet. He made a little skip towards the office door and helped the man open the door.
“Lift and push.” He grunted as he lifted and pulled the door from his side. “Lift. Lift!”
The door passed the frayed edge and flung itself open, sending Mark stumbling backwards and the gentleman toppling into the office.
“Brian?” Mark asked, his eyes widening in recognition of a friend long since considered lost, or at the very least misplaced and with strict privacy settings on his Facebook page.
“I need your help.” His friend told him, helping himself to a seat.
As the kettle whistled on the hob Akbul huffed in the way that a single mother of three children below the age of eight would sigh when going for her shower only to realise the children have already been in there before her. He hated tea, but it was absolutely necessary to get two cups with two lumps of sugar down him before the day began.
He took the kettle from the hob and turned the gas down, sloshing water into his cup and leaving the kettle on the back hob of the stove.
As he clinked his spoon around mindlessly in the cup he asked himself the question we all ask ourselves just before a Monday morning commute.
“What am I doing with my life?”
He splashed milk into his cup and stirred it around, squeezing the teabag against the side of the cup and plopping it, along with the teaspoon, directly onto the worktop. He grabbed the cup handle and wondered out of the kitchen into a small room that could loosely be described as a living room on account of a sofa being present, though the main feature of the room was almost certainly the large green portapotty with the white roof, a plug hanging out of the side and trailing across the entire room to plug into the wall. The floor around the portapotty was covered in ceramic and paper mugs with dried tea around the bottom.
Akbul slurped the tea with a mild irritation and placed the cup on the floor, retrieved the television remote from the sofa and opened up the door to the portapotty where, rather than a toilet was stretch of desert that was completely flat as far as the horizon. He stepped through the door, closing it behind him and immediately bursting into an uncomfortable sweat. He cursed out loud at the two cups of hot tea he had just polished off, wiped his brow, and set off on his journey.
The door of the Councillors BMW clumped closed behind him and he screeched away from the house of Sandra Borg. She waved and blew a kiss from the upstairs window, a blanket covering all the good bits.
Ernie had climbed the stairs, stepped through the closed bedroom door and was perched on the end of the unmade bed feeling almost thankful that in death one loses their sense of smell. He looked at his wife as she sat on her side of the bed pulling her pop socks back on and felt a pang of sorrow darting around his chest.
Part of him wanted to smother her with a pillow until her legs stopped kicking, but another part of him also wanted to smother her with a pillow until her legs stopped kicking. Unfortunately, he couldn’t lift a pillow up.
As he was kneeling on the bed frantically pulling his hands through the pillow on his side of the bed over and over the doorbell rang.
“Surely he’s not back for another go?” he thought.
Sandra picked her dressing gown up from the floor and slipped into it, tying it around her waist. She headed through the bedroom door, down the stairs and opened the front door. Ernie followed her, stopping at the top of the stairs.
Two policemen stood at the front door.
“Mrs. Borg?” asked the larger of the two, “PC Jefferson, PC Drake. Would you mind if we came in?”
She leaned away from the door indicating they could settle themselves in the living room. She peaked her head out of the door, checked both ways up the road and, satisfied that nobody had seen, slammed the door and stepped into the living room where the policemen were already seated.
“What’s this about?” she asked, panic filling her body from the tips of her still numb toes to the very edges of her messy slightly damp hair.
As Ernie entered the living room the policeman broke the news to her and immediately she smiled.
Ernie blinked. An odd reaction, he thought, to your husband of twenty years being found dead in Morocco. On top of a pyramid, nonetheless.
The policeman ensured her that it was no joke, and at that point a more satisfying reaction was provided as she burst into tears and buried her head in her hands.
“That’s more like it.” Ernie thought, nodding his head in satisfaction.
He looked down at his translucent body, expecting that seeing his wife did in fact care for him would be enough to take him away from the Limbo he was living in and on to whatever the afterlife held in store, but nothing happened.
He shook his hands in front of him as though he had some fluff stuck to them.
“Oh, come on!” he yelled, looking up at the ceiling, again noting the damp patch for a moment.
Ernie had been stuck this way for almost a fortnight now. His body had been missing for most of those days and the last two days it had spent on its own inside a glorified lunch box in Morocco until the body had been identified. He had stowed away on a plane back to England, took a taxi from the airport to the bus station and a bus from the station to his semi-detached house and when he arrived he found the Councillor drinking the good red wine that was being saved for Christmas. He had actually been back home for several days now and every day except one the Councillor had come over and schtupped his wife.
Oddly, every time he climaxed he shouted out sentences that Ernie could only presume were plucked from White Papers he had recently read. Sentences such as “The pursuit of prohibitionist foreign policies can generate serious consequential harms in the countries where those policies are imposed!” and “A reduction of two point seven percent over one fiscal quarter!”, for example.
The policeman was asking his wife whether Ernie had any enemies that she knew of. She was telling him that she would not expect so, and that Ernie was a “wonderful man, without a bad bone in his body.”
Ernie shook his head. If only she knew he had been trying to smother her with their pillows for the last four afternoons. She might change her tone then and implicate the councillor in his murder.
Despite Ernie being relatively certain that the councillor wasn’t the one that had murdered him he decided it would still offer him some pleasure in seeing him without laces in his shoes and eating cereal in the morning with warm milk on it, all at her majesties pleasure.
The policemen packed up their notepads and left Sandra weeping on her sofa, her left nipple hanging out of her dressing gown.
Mark was rummaging through the drawers tucked underneath his desk, old receipts several allen keys and a collection of dried out pens with company logos emblazoned on them sat on top of a pile of indistinguishable fragments of old food. Eventually he found what he was looking for, pulling from the back of the drawer two teabags joined together at a tearable seam. He separated the teabags and looked up at Brian who was grey in the face, his eyes sunken into his skull making them look darker than usual. His hair hadn’t been brushed in recent memory and was flicking out at the sides, his long fringe also curling upwards towards the ceiling.
“A nice cup of tea should help rejuvenate you some, I suspect. Then we can get to the nitty-gritty.” Mark said, a false smile stretching right across his face.
Brian grunted a little, lifting his head to acknowledge his friend before letting it sink back down into his chest.
Mark rolled his chair backwards and grabbed the kettle from the small table in the back corner of the room, giving it a little shake to check there was enough water in it before switching it on. A few cups were laying loose on the table and he dropped the teabags into two cups. He rolled himself back to his desk.
“Perhaps we could start on the nitty whilst the kettle boils, and discuss the gritty bit later, whilst we wait for it to cool?” Mark suggested, leaning his elbows into the desk and clasping his fingers together.
Brian looked up at his friend. As he opened his mouth Mark could see how dry his lips were, pale and cracked out the outside, a stark contrast to the deep red of his tongue and the inside of his lips.
“The police are looking for me, they think I’ve murdered a man I met on holiday.” His voice was getting louder and louder with each word, fighting with the noise of the boiling kettle. Mark raised his finger signalling for a moment to interject.
“One minute.” He shouted over the steaming and bubbling kettle.
They both paused and waited for the kettle to finish boiling. It rattled around on its stand, the lid flicked up and down on its hinge and steam wafted into the air, creating beads of condensation on the wooden panelling of the wall. Eventually the kettle clicked and Mark hopped to his feet, sloshing water into the cups and plopping two lumps of sugar from the sugar bowl into his cup.
“Sugar?” he asked Brian as he stirred his own teabag.
“No thank you.” Brian muttered as Mark dropped two lumps of sugar into his cup as well before giving it a good stir and splashing milk into both cups. He dropped the teabags into the waste paper bin and they toppled from the piles of rubbish straight to the floor. Mark placed the cups down on the desk and sat himself back down, crossing his leg over his knee, leaning right back in his chair and letting his fingertips touch one another in front of his face.
“So, a murder you say?” his eyebrow raising slightly.
“The police are outside my house right now. Or they were about an hour ago at least.”
“And how do you know that they suspect you of this murder?”
“Well. I was there at the time. I mean, not really, just more in spirit than anything I suppose.”
“Well, I dreamt it. And then I read the news at my desk the very next day and there he is, a man found on top of a Moroccan pyramid stark bollock naked except from that teacup balanced upside down on his youknowwhat.”
“Ah, I recall seeing that article yesterday, yes.”
Mark stood up and started to pace up and down behind his desk slowly, taking two steps, then pivoting after running out of space immediately. He wagged his index finger in front of his face.
“But how could they suspect you if you merely dreamt it?”
“Well, it’s really quite bizarre. But I don’t seem to be able to find my driving license.”
“Or my passport.”
“Or my tenancy agreement, any of my utility bills, or my letter confirming my subscription to Nuts Magazine.”
Mark stopped pacing and tilted his head.
“For the sports banter, you understand.”
Mark pursed his lips and gave an understanding and reassuring nod.
“Hold on a minute!” Mark exclaimed, his index finger now pointing right in the air, “I knew something was amiss.”
He rummaged through the paperwork on his desk and picked up The Times from the previous day, flicking through the pages quickly before slapping the paper down onto his desk, grabbing the magnifying glass and holding it between him and the newspaper, moving it closer to the paper, then further away, then closer again.
“Brian.” Mark said, slapping his finger down onto the image of a pyramid, “I think I’ve found your water bill.”
The cow had found itself in an incredibly odd situation as far as situations cow’s find themselves in go. She was standing at the top of a staircase which, if animal sex joke fanatics had their way, would be the start of a very good joke. Unfortunately, she found herself at both the top and the bottom of the staircase simultaneously which was incredibly confusing and the cause of a continually growing frustration.
How she had come to be on the staircase was an equally bizarre situation involving a series of identical cows, which she was now slowly coming to realise were actually a long series of elaborately positioned full-length mirrors arranged by a tanned man in flip flops, and a very small box that smelled much worse than most of the things she had sat in over the last two years of her existence.
Why she had been placed in the box was still a curious mystery to her, as to was how the inside of the box had later turned into an endless staircase that she could only climb and for some reason related to the structure of her knees, not descend.
It did occur to her, however, that leaving a nice bowl of water and grass what quite nice of the strange man.
She sat down on the top, and bottom, step of the staircase. It was probably going to rain soon, she thought.
One year previous…
The lights in the auditorium had just clicked off signalling the end of the intermission and the resumption of the show. The magician stood alone on stage, a single spotlight lighting him up. He removed his top hat and took a bow to the audience who applauded him.
“Ladies and gentlemen, for my next illusion I will need a volunteer from the audience.”
He cast his gaze across the dark sea of faces and pointed out at a gentleman in the audience.
“Yes, you sir in the blazer. Make your way to the stage.”
As the volunteer shuffled down the aisle the magicians assistant slid a chair across the stage which he positioned in the centre of the spotlight. He invited his guest to the stage and asked him to take a seat.
“May I ask your name, sir?” the magician asked as his volunteer sat down.
“And Brian, we have never met before, have we?”
Brian indicated that they had not met, and wiped the palms of his hands on the knees of his trousers.
“Brian, please can I see your wallet?”
Brian shuffled on the chair and removed his wallet from his pocket, handing it to the magician who promptly flicked it open and removed several plastic cards.
“Ah, here we are. Your driving license.”
He dropped the wallet to the floor.
Brian looked away from the discarded contents of his wallet up at the magician.
“Your photograph is ridiculous.” The magician sniggered, turning it towards the audience for a moment who laughed in agreement despite not being able to see the picture from such a distance. “Brian, I will now turn this driver’s license into every piece of identification suitable to apply for disability benefits.”
The magician took the license and tucked it into his hands, rubbing frantically before unfurling his hands to present the audience and Brian with a collection of pieces of paper. He held them up to the audience and then passed them to Brian.
“Brian, can you confirm please that these are in fact your documents?”
Brian leafed through them with disbelief. Water, Gas, Electricity, Telephone, Satellite television, Birth Certificate, Passport, Paper driving license. It was all there, and undeniably his.
“Thank you!” the magician yelled, indicating that the trick was complete and taking the documents back from Brian. The audience applauded and two attractive women dressed in the same amount of material that goes into making a handkerchief picked up the discarded contents of his wallet from the stage and swiftly guided a bemused Brian off the stage, despite his moderate protests.
“I just don’t understand how on Earth he managed it. He must have been to our house after we set off for the show. I just don’t understand.”
Brian was muttering about his disbelief all the way home, much to the annoyance of his girlfriend Hannah who was not only the designated driver but also the one who had paid for the tickets to the show and, was still waiting her reimbursement for Brian’s ticket.
“Brian. It’s just a trick. An illusion.” She huffed as she took a left turn and pulled the car up onto their driveway. It had been a long drive home.
The magician removed his suit jacket and untucked the sheets of paper from his inside jacket, dropping them into his rucksack which lay open on his dressing table. He had a feeling the paperwork might be useful for him again at some stage.
“So to clarify,” Mark was saying as he wandered aimlessly around his office, pausing at his window a moment to look out at the side of the incredibly close tree, “You dreamt someone was murdered, looked for some identification the next day without success, saw the murder had taken place, then the police came and rather than explain this very thing to the police you fled and came to see me, correct?”
“And tell me, if your passport is with the dead body in a different country, how did you get back to England?”
“I ah—Well, I never went to Morocco in the first place.”
“You have a t-shirt tan.” Mark said, waggling his finger in the direction of Brian’s neck line and resuming his pacing around the office.
“I do?” Brian asked, looking down at his chest as best he could.
Brian was definitely and understandably confused.
“I was simply seeing whether you were surprised by my say so, which you were, indicating that a suntan would be something that might take you by surprise, should you have somehow obtained one against your will.”
Brian blinked a few times, then his mouth opened. And then his mouth shut.
“Brian, I put it to you that you have as much idea of what is going on here as I do, am I correct in that assumption?”
“And in that case, how do you expect either of us to have others believe anything other than you murdered this man?”
Brian blinked some more, but found it not to be helping.
“Tell me. This dream you had, it was in your own bed?” Mark asked.
Brian shook his head, “No, no. It was at my girlfriend’s house.”
“Not in your car?”
“No. My car was outside.”
“But you do, in fact, have a car?”
“In that case, I need a lift. Would you be so kind?”
Brian would have asked Mark where he wanted to be taken, but he knew better than to try and refuse a request for a favour from Mark. He was the sort of person that simply assumed everything available was offered to him. And besides. Mark had already slung a jacket over his shoulder and slid through the gap in the jammed office door.
Akbul had been walking across the desert for a very long time. His shorts had been removed and fastened around his head to create a makeshift headscarf. The hot sand was worming its way inside his flip flops and burning the soles of his feet. He was, as he had expected, not having a very pleasant time and he was convinced that the tea had gone a long way in making him as hot as he was.
At the brink of the horizon, where steam waved its way from the sand into the deep blue sky, a change in the skyline was taking place. With each step a town grew taller and closer. Stone walls crept around the outside of the town with sentries posted at guard towers set on top of the walls at varying distances along the perimeter, a large wooden gate was closed. Even at this distance it looked impenetrable.
Akbul licked his lips. They were dry and chapped and his tongue was only a little more moist. He might even go as far as to say that, should one be offered by an oddly placed burger van, he might take up an offer of a polystyrene cup of tea.
He pressed on, the sun beating down on his hot, burning skin until he was in full view of the two guards posted outside of the gates. He held up his hand and the guards saluted his arrival. He removed the shorts from his head, unzipped them, stepped into them and zipped them back up.
“Rameses,” Akbul rasped, his throat dry, nodding his head at one guard, “Osiris.” He said, nodding at the other.
Ramesis turned and banged his fist against the large gate which then slowly creaked open, a team of guards at the other side heaving and huffing as Akbul stepped through from the desert onto an equally as hot stone floor. He was standing in the centre of a large open area, stalls lined up around the outside, pointing him down a wide corridor which led to a tall, albeit narrow, ornate stone building with a small, dark doorway. He stepped through the door and looked up the stairs. The stairwell was cool, the heat sun unable to penetrate the thick stone. He started to climb the steps, his flip flops clipping and clopping as he went.
Reaching the summit he walked through another doorway and found himself in a large rectangular room, a red carpet stretching from the doorway to the back of the room where a Pharaoh sat.
“Akbul!” the Pharaoh beamed, welcoming his friend with arms wide open. “Please, come, come. What wonder do you have for us today?”
Akbul dropped his rucksack on the floor and kicked his flip flops off, enjoying the cool stone beneath his feet.
“Today I have for you a contraption that will stretch even the mind of you, great Pharaoh.” Akbul said, rummaging in his rucksack. “But first, could I trouble you for a drink?”
The cow had spent a long time on the stairwell and yet the bowls of grass and water were never empty. She found this quite curious but decided it in her best interest not to question it too much, and besides, she was too dim-witted to recognise the answer to this quandary even if it were to punch her square in her face. Instead she allowed herself to feel safely content in the knowledge that her bowls were as infinite as the staircase on which they were arranged.
She looked around and took in her surroundings as she slowly chewed the cud in her mouth. The stairwell was a lovely colour. It was the colour of a tree. ‘brown’, she thought to herself, ‘I’ll call that colour brown.’
The rest of the area seemed to be nothingness. There was no grass where the bottom of the staircase might be nor a sky where the top of the staircase could theoretically be located. It was very dark, like the inside of her eyes were when the sun went away and she closed her eyes. She had always described that colour as ‘black’, and that was the colour she could see now, except when she closed her eyes she could still see something bright, like the sun was still out.
‘What was the meaning of all this?’ she had caught herself thinking, ‘the meaning of any of this, in fact?’
'Is being a cow on an infinite staircase in the darkness that is bright, with infinite grass and water, truly enough, or was there more meaning to life? Do cows not have a purpose to fulfil?'
She looked down between her legs.
‘And what on Earth am I supposed to do with those?’ she thought.
This thinking was all getting a bit much for her, so she had a little lie down, despite no rain being on the horizon. But just as she did so the uncomfortable smelly box appeared at the top, or bottom, of the staircase. She mooed in disapproval as the door opened and a man in flip flops stepped out, a clump of hay in one hand and a bottle of water in the other.
The cow tilted her head and swallowed the cud.
‘Hay. Water. Bowls. Hay… Water…’
Nope. She still didn’t understand.