The Shifting Box
‘Are you sure?’ Frank asked.
‘Okay,’ Frank said.
And twisted the dial to the Max position.
And they sat. Both old men. Then young men. In an empty room. And then a crowded one.
‘Has it started yet?’ asked Albert.
‘I’m not sure,’ Frank said, a paranoid wave peaking.
Then Frank became a lion.
‘Oh my God,’ screamed Albert in a perfect falsetto. Luckily he had trained as a youngster at Mad Mick’s Magickal Murder Circus (which had been the most famous circus of its day) and knew exactly what to do.
Albert raised the chair to shoulder height and held it steady. The crowd went wild.
Frank the Lion roared.
Albert bared his teeth and lunged at the great cat, his epiglottis approximating a generic animal growl.
The lion became a Sunday roast, steaming on a table on the Finchley Road.
Roles reversed, Albert lifted his cutlery.
Chelsea scored and, instead of tucking into his former friend, he leaped into the air and celebrated loudly.
Albert and Frank were now brothers.
‘Mum doesn’t want to see you, that’s why she’s not here.’
‘Because I’ve dishonoured the family?’ Frank asked, hurt.
‘Yes,’ Albert said, his eyes on the floor, ‘She’s a good Christian, Frank.’
‘No. If she was a good Christian she’d have forgiven her son.’
‘But what you’ve done –’ Albert said, choking before he could finish his sentence.
Albert turned slowly purple. Frank squealed like the four year old girl he now was.
‘Daddy!’ She inhaled snot and tears and began hyperventilating. ‘Daddy?’
The chicken bone in Albert’s throat responded to one final, desperate cough – the spasm of his trachea springing it free into the outside world.
‘Thank God for that,’ said Albert, massaging his swollen throat.
‘No problem,’ said Frank, who was now the Supreme Being.
‘Oh my God!’ said Albert.
‘Yes,’ said Frank, honestly.
‘Oh… My… ’ Albert didn’t get a chance to finish as he had promptly become a Flawsdub Attic Yak. On the planet Kawrscrub.
Frank ran, his muscles quickly flooding with blood.
Albert munched deep into his (former) friend’s left leg with his massive maw, slicing through a veiny calf muscle. Frank screamed until his larynx ran dry, until there was no air left in his lungs.
And then Albert conveniently became a hospital bed, complete with medical charts and a machine that goes ‘bing’. Frank sank into Albert and quietly wished that the madness would end.
Then Albert, between two almost identical breaths, became the thunderous contrivance of telling a story in the past tense, in order that the reader find it more easily digestible. Frank is not.
Albert was a window. Frank was the reflection within the glass of a pristine white keyboard. There was no keyboard.
Albert was a warm, lime green seat. Frank was a non-sequitur.
Eventually both lost track of who or what they had ever been, as realities bumped and merged, as the box on the floor made the quantum world within the walls of that room quiver.
Neither would again remember why they had agreed to do what they had done, and there was no one else to carry out that function as reality slipped and shifted with empirical regularity.
Frank was the air in the room.
Albert was the author, reaching the bottom of his creamy white page, putting down his pen.
And they both lived happily ever after.