Shift Work

All of this is happening right now.

Harry Majestic taps the side of the thick white mug repeatedly with his index finger as he makes his point. His marginally less caffeinated buddy David Blank takes sips of something light brown out of a clear plastic cup as he listens. When it’s his turn to talk, he plops his drink down on the table, and there is a tiny wet rumble of ice cubes settling, clear under the surface of the liquid.
“They did a really nice job.”
“You watched it already? You only bought it yesterday.”
“Yeah, but, yeah… they did a really nice job. Didn’t put any new stuff in, just fixed the stuff that didn’t quite work.”
“So, not like a whole new version?”
“Yeah, no, not at all. Just, you know, tidied up some effects, lightened stuff up a little. Did some… now, I’m telling you that I didn’t really notice the sound that much watching it as a kid, but you can so tell that they did something to the sound quality. Through the setup at home, it moved me.”
“So, wow. So not like Lucas.”
“No way. Not like Lucas at all.”

Halfway between Starbucks and somewhere else, I’m raising my gun, and taking out the spiky haired fuck before the sawn-off even clears his trench. One in the chest, one in the head, and I don’t break pace, don’t sprint, don’t falter, till I’m in the light cover of a C&A window alcove. A quick glance to check that he is definitely down, another across the road to see Harry, in cover and looking for the would-be assassin’s back-up. In the back of my mind, there’s a tickle of something that it’s best not to pay attention to – a morbid observation is all.
So, then, I guess now C&A didn’t close down, huh?

You are sitting at your desk, thinking about going for coffee with Mr Majestic. Only another half-hour – admit it, you’re clock watching – really 28 minutes, 30 seconds, and you can head for lunch. Coffee Fridays. Burgers Mondays. Every other day, sandwich, bag of crisps and a drink – £2.49 meal deal from either his work canteen or yours.
Normally Thursdays the two of you grab a pint after work, on account of Thursday is the one night that you both get off from your other obligations – girlfriends, gym (in his case), football (in yours). Last night, he cried off. The Directors Cut finally arrived in the post, and he really wanted to get home and watch it. You gave him shit, but to be honest, you’re kind of relieved – he’s been talking about it for ages, and now maybe he’ll calm down about it.
Old friends are the best kind, you’re thinking, as you click the spreadsheet that you are supposed to be working on up to full screen, hiding the fantasy football site from your line manager as she does her rounds.
She’s got a cracking arse, you’ve decided, but takes the work far too seriously. She always spanks him down when he acts up in meetings, but there’s a half-smile on her face when she sees the detailed sketches of her that he sits and doodles, while other colleagues discuss papers, policies and procedures.
25 minutes, 45 seconds.

This really is all happening right now. Right this moment.
Now it’s passed, but hang on a second…

David wondered if every writer had that same feeling, as if finally finishing a manuscript really did end with one typing “The End”. The heady mixture of relief and fear that he always felt – and this was the fifth novel that he had completed in his life so far, the third that would see print – even though he never actually typed the coda down for real.
He mused on this as he looked at what he was certain was the final paragraph of the final chapter of his latest work. When did he get out of the habit of capping off a story with “The End”, “End”, or on a couple of embarrassing occasions in his late teens, “Fin”?
It was the only way to finish something you’d written as a kid. As an adult, how did you ever know that a story was really over for sure?
When Harry stops calling me every five minutes, asking if I’m done yet, that’s when!
He grinned, and then grimaced.
Because of course, he wasn’t finished yet, even once his publisher and friend had the finished first draft in front of him. Now, the process of review, revision and rewriting began, and that could take months. And then after that, would he be allowed to rest?
Of course not. Then it’s on to the next adventure.
He sighed, but it was only a half sigh. He was still feeling good.
He reached for his phone, ready to speed-dial Majestic Press.

On the street, Harry turns toward me as I say something fascinating. We’re walking back to our respective offices, the early afternoon streets busy as always with the human mass, all of them in a hurry, but none of them heading anywhere in particular. Looking my way, he spots the guy with his hand in his jacket first. He puts his arm out, one movement designed to move me back out of the way and draw my attention at the same time, simple ergonomics in motion.

Later today, around noon, patient D.Blank is going to be removed from the day room for his own safety. He will be strapped down securely, but a male nurse will be left with him to calm and reassure him, while the doctor in charge of his case is found and consulted – the ethos at the Hollow Rock Psychiatric Facility is progressive, favouring individual care and drug therapy regimes over institutional use of generic medication solutions for behavioral problems.
They won’t be able to sedate him until they’ve talked to the doctor. D.Blank will suffer for their care.
He won’t hear a thing that the male nurse says.
Blank’s jacket describes him as a low-functioning BPD case, experiencing a fully immersive and detailed delusional world overlaid on this one, rendering him incapable of living safely outside the Facility.
His case file is wrong.
Blank isn’t, in fact, delusional enough. He suffers only from total lucidity at all times. It is reality that doesn’t stay still – D.Blank experiences total awareness of a universe gone mad.
His sanity is driving him crazy.
Later on still, he will start to scream.

By the time I’ve turned and noticed the guy, his coat is open, and the stunted black stub of the machine pistol’s screw-on suppressor is spitting at us. It’s funny how the adrenaline either gets around your body instantly, or knows before you do, because there’s a copper taste in my mouth and everything is slowing right – the – fuck – down.
He’s shooting straight at where I was an instant earlier – I feel more than hear the wind of rapid-fire as it spins over Harry’s head, as he dives for the concrete, turning into a roll, his own hand going for his concealed shoulder holster.
Everything is happening all at once, but then I guess it always does.
The twat with the spiky hair is laughing, clearly off his face on something, when Harry’s first shot hits him in the pelvis.
It’s worth noting at this point that Harry is the sharp one, but I’m the better shot.
I land on my arse hard, as Harry’s second bullet takes the guy high in his gun arm, pulling the hissing fire coming from the pistol into the air where it won’t do as much damage. I can tell you now, Harry did that by accident.
My mate’s next two shots go wide, smashing the window of the store behind our attacker, that used to be a C&A, into a million pieces, glass snow falling down on the book displays inside.
By the time my own gun is out, the spiky twat is all over the place, and Harry can’t draw a bead. I take him high in the chest, and the hit lifts him up and backwards. He lands half in the now glass less display – its raised floor means his backside is higher than the pavement outside, his legs out in the street, his torso slumped straight down over his lap. It looks for all the world like he’s just having a rest, apart from all the blood.
Harry and I, we’re already looking around, waiting for the other foot to fall.

Somewhere else, Dave Blank, rock star, is balls deep in last nights groupie again. Nobody knows how totally fucking nuts Dave is, least of all Dave himself.
If he hadn’t picked up a guitar in his teens in an effort to attract the attention of his peers, if he hadn’t grown into his cheekbones so well after being such a gawky kid, if he didn’t spend so much time high or acting out, if he hadn’t got so damn famous?
If all those things hadn’t happened, someone would probably have noticed that Dave was not quite right. He would probably have been diagnosed as being all out bipolar – maybe they would have struggled to pin it down to just the one thing. Certainly, he’d be on as many drugs as he is right now, but this time by prescription.
The thing about Dave, the thing that makes his music so much better then anyone has really realised yet, as distracted as they are by all the other static about him – He sees a whole mess of different worlds, where the rest of us only see the one.
It might break someone a little more sane, but Dave – Dave just finds it hilarious.
The groupie squeals up an octave, grinding her way to yet another orgasm, and Dave gears it up a notch. What he’s seeing, he’s seeing all the girls he’s ever fucked, every different way, in every different version. He laughs high, and thrusts.

Sometimes, I shoot first.
Sometimes, the other guy gets his shot in.

Note to self. Poss. reason for certain characters seeing through changes – tenuous hold on/weird relationship with reality, so look harder/notice more?
Creative people – inhab. or populate imaginary worlds so more attuned?
MAD people – Dissassociative (sp?) disorders and such mean that already experiencing subjective reality, so see change but don’t think strange.
Slacker people – Uninformed/disinterested, so come to world with little expectation of how it should be, experience changes but don’t stress them. DITTO CHILDREN!
Maybe dogs too?

“I just don’t get it, you know?”
David nods, trying to ignore the brain freeze that his last slurp of frappuccino got him. He does know.
“I mean, I understand the need to go back and tidy up your old work – I suppose. If you’ve got the money and the backing, why not fix a few of the things that didn’t look quite right.
But, changing things so much that it affects the story? You’re making it into a whole other film, then, aren’t you? You’re not revising it, you’re doing a cover version of your own song.”
“But, okay, I get that the new versions were shit, but how is this different from someone doing a remake? Like Jackson with Kong? They changed that story a lot.”
“No, man, see… Stories are meant to be told and retold… different people making their own interpretations of the same thing, or retooling a fable to make their own point.”
”I guess that’s part of the fun, right? Seeing how a new mind changes things?”
“Yeah, exactly. But, this shit? Coming back to your own idea, and changing it all around? And then claiming that that was how it always is?”
“Sounds like senility to me.”
“Yeah, sounds like senility and taking everyone who ever loved your shit with you.”
“So what about Raimi and the Evil Dead?”
“Don’t start.”

Yesterday will be the same and different. Tomorrow will be different and the same.
Today keeps changing, one second to the next.

The backup turns out to be just one guy, a sniper in a second story window. Harry takes him out from his vantage point across the street.
By the time we each make it back to work, on time as always, you’d never know that anything untoward had happened.

Harry and I realised what was going on years ago, when we were sharing a house at Uni, although, you know, it might have been longer ago, the way things are.
Somehow, the world keeps changing. I don’t mean, you know, oooh, progress, the inexorable march of time style stuff, like weird new hairstyles, dumber teenagers, mobile phones. I mean that… the world keeps shifting. Total paradigm shifts. Sometimes mid-sentence, sometimes only once or twice a day.
Real “up is down, black is white” style stuff.

The backup turns out to be a small army of fucking punks. They come from all directions, and all of them armed. Harry almost gets taken out by a sniper on the second floor of some building cross the way, and by the time we both get back to work, late, we’re each of us covered in blood, the enemy’s and our own, and it’s almost time to go home.

Around another 14 minutes and 12, 11, 10 seconds.

David and Harry were certain that other people must have noticed the way that the world was so fluid around them, but nobody around them seemed to be aware of it. As certain as they were that it wasn’t just an accident. Somebody or something was making these changes, but to what end? Why were they sometimes dramatic, sometimes barely noticeable at all? And why was it that since they became aware, they seemed to quite often find themselves in peril of one kind or another?
Discussing it explicitly only seemed appropriate in some shifts. And others were so high-octane or drama-filled that they kept them quite busy enough.
It seemed easier, most of the time, to just go with the flow. Sometimes, it was almost even fun.

David was just about to step out for some air, was in fact pulling on his coat, when the phone rang.
He already knew that it was going to be Harry. The publisher seemed ever more eager to see the first draft of the new book – the closer David seemed to get to finishing, the closer on each other the phone-calls came.
David didn’t mind too much, to be honest. Since Elly had left to stay with her mother, he was starting to feel quite isolated, and as much as he missed her, and missed the company, it wasn’t just that.
He found that his regime suffered if he didn’t have a sounding board for his work – that all progress would sometimes grind down over the most minor of story or character issues if he only had himself to work it through with.
Talking to Harry helped him sound these problems out, and often let him cut through them.
Ten minutes after picking up the phone, David no longer felt he needed to escape the house. The central plot point that he had been struggling with for a couple of days had almost solved itself, once he had gone over it a few times with his friend, working it, looking at it with two fresh pairs of eyes, working it again.
He started typing.
The end was in sight.

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Nicolas Papaconstantinou
Nicolas Papaconstantinou is an enthusiastic amateur creative type, and the chap behind Elephant Words. Be nice to him. He growed up kinda wrong.

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