A Final Dawn
A Final Dawn
It was the most extraordinary of ordinary days. It wasn’t that John Smith’s morning run was remarkable – no, it was just his regular three miles in the dark of Clapham Common, on a chilly winter morning, completed in 22m 15s. Not a personal best, just an ordinary time. Nor was there anything unexpected about his hot shower, or his black coffee, scrambled eggs and slightly burn toast. As usual, despite the blackness of the winter morning, he was precisely and unremarkably on time for his ten-minute walk to Clapham Common tube station. Inevitably, his 7.53am Tube into Holborn Circus was 3 minutes late, as it had been most of the winter. It was only when he emerged into Kingsway that he began to feel a slight oddness. There was something slightly squiffy about the darkness around him and the absence of the morning dawn. Surely it should be starting to get light by now, even in depths of January? But, as he walked to his office, the crowds on the pavements seemed quite normal and unconcerned.
Pushing through the doors of Willmott, Wallington and Weatherby, Solicitors and Commissioners of Oaths, he nodded to Miss Ponsonby behind the reception desk. She was gazing dreamily into the space above his head and made no response. This too was hardly extra ordinary as it was well known throughout the office that Miss Ponsonby’s dedication to her local bridge club nights had finally resulted in her capturing her own personal Jack of Hearts. They were still in the full flush of mutual adoration. Her mind was often elsewhere, and even occasionally her body, as if she felt she would not be missed she regularly slipped round the corner for a long lunch with her beau.
John proceeded up the stairs to the office he shared with Hugh Wallington. As usual, Hugh had not yet arrived, one of the many perks of being a son of the senior partner. John was pleased to have the room to himself and planned a quiet hour or two to deal with his current caseload. But before making a start, he wandered down to the little kitchen at the end of the corridor to make himself a black coffee. The dinghy kitchen was deserted, again too early for many of his co-workers, and this added to his sense of gloom. It seemed unnaturally dark in the corridor too as he walked back to his office. He made a mental note to ask the building janitor to have a look at the bulbs.
Sitting down at his desk, he sipped the coffee carefully, to avoid burning his tongue. But the liquid seemed rather insipid. He could neither smell the coffee aroma nor feel its heat on his tongue. How strange. Perhaps the coffee maker was on the blink, or maybe there was something wrong with the electrics in the whole building. He put his finger in the coffee but he could feel nothing. The coffee was neither hot nor cold. Indeed it did not even seem to be wet. He raised his finger to his mouth and rubbed it on his tongue. There was no sensation at all. Puzzled, he pressed the intercom to his secretary:
‘Miss Jameson, is there something wrong with the coffee machine this morning?’
There was no response, so after a few seconds he said:
‘Miss Jameson, are you there?’
Again, silence. Perhaps the wretched girl was not in yet, either. John tut-tutted. It had always been a puzzle to how Willmott, Wallington and Weatherby’s managed to make any profit at all, given the cavalier way the staff treated the firm.
John stepped out of his office, intending to see if Miss Jameson was in the adjacent typing pool or if not, to search her out. But in the gloom of the corridor he saw Howard Willmott just going into his office, so he called out:
‘Morning Howard – what’s happening today? – is no-one else in?’
Howard looked startled and turned to see who had called out. In the gloom of the corridor, it seemed he failed to see John, and after a second of puzzlement, he turned and went into his office. John called out again, ‘Howard!’ But it was too late as Howard had already disappeared.
John frowned and opened the door to the secretary pool. His frown deepened as he saw that Miss Jameson was sitting at her desk, intent on drying the manicure on her nails.
‘Miss Jameson! I was calling you.’
Miss Jameson, ignored him, still intent on perfecting the sheen on her nails.
‘For goodness’ sake, Susan - this isn’t a beauty parlour!’
Miss Jameson looked up, pursed her lips and then returned to examining her nails.
John strode over to her desk, his 6 foot 3 inches looming over her petite frame. With a quick motion he waved his hand under her gaze.
‘I don’t know what you think you are doing, Susan, but this isn’t very funny.’
Susan lifted her head and leaning slightly backwards looked past him, towards the open office window. Still pursing her lips she stood up and walked past him, pulled the window frame closed, carefully protecting her nails. Ignoring John, she returned to her seat and pulled a copy of Heat out of a desk drawer and started to flick through the pages.
This was too much for John. He reached over the desk and pulled the magazine out of Susan’s grasp. Except that he didn’t. His fingers did not seem to grip the pages, but somehow slithered through them as if they were coated in butter. Or maybe Flora Light, John thought, remembering Miss Jameson’s careful attention to a healthy diet. He made another grab for the magazine, but the outcome was equally ineffectual. What was going on?
Finally Susan looked up at John. At least that is what he thought. But then she said,
‘Good morning, Mr Willmott.’
John turned to see Willmott’s head and shoulders peering round the now open office door. John wondered if the rest of Willmott’s body was really behind the door or if Willmott was some sort of ghoul floating around the office. John often thought of Willmott as some sort of dastardly tormentor from an unseen world and often daydreamed up schemes of decapitating him. He mostly meant that in an organisational way rather than an actual physical act – but hat was simply the nature of the normal senior partner – junior lawyer relationship . Willmott was however quite kindly to the secretarial staff and simply said:
‘Good morning, Susan. Can you bring the Johnson papers round to my office? I need to review them before meeting the client at lunchtime. And can you book me a table at the Pig and Pork Pie for say, 12.30? Table for three I think.’
‘Yes, certainly Mr Willmott. Right away.’
John could not help thinking that Susan never responded to him with quite that tone of alacrity and deference. But now she was not responding at all. Willmott had closed the door and gone on his way, so John was alone with Susan again. Well goodness, he thought, she’s not going to ignore me anymore. A couple of quick strides and he was behind her chair. For a moment he considered whether his next action would be a summonable offence. Undoubtedly, but then there were not going to be any witnesses so he would argue that he was acting under jus naturale. He was sure, under the circumstances, the average person would find his action reasonable. But then, just what were the circumstances? He still was not quite sure. He was certain sure however, that although Willmott might have the right to ignore him, Susan certainly did not. So he leaned forward and gave her long black hair a firm tug. Again, he had the feeling of water running through his hands, and his action had no effect.
‘For goodness, sake.’ he said, more to himself than to Susan.
Determined to evoke some response, he leant down, placed his mouth next to her right ear and shouted:
‘Earth to Susan – time to come down to land. It’s your favourite solicitor, John, calling – your time is up!’
This in no way had the desired effect. Or indeed any effect. That was the moment that John realised that this ordinary day was probably going to turn out to be quite extraordinary.
Unsure of what to do next, he sat down on a chair next to the window. The room seemed to be getting gloomier, just like his mood. ‘Right – let’s relax - five deep breaths’, he said to himself.
‘One…two…three…four…five.’ He carefully intoned each number as he exhaled each breath. Wait, there was something odd about that. He could not quite put his finger on it, just as he had not been able to put his fingers on Susan’s magazine and hair. (Susan by this time had finished the article in Heat and was fishing about in one of the cabinets for the Johnson papers). Ah, he had it. When he intoned each number, he could not hear his own voice. And then he realised, even when he had shouted at Susan, he could only hear the words in his mind – his voice had been silent.
Around him the office was getting gloomier. He felt it closing in on him, as if the air was being sucked out of the room and an increasing vacuum was sucking the walls and ceiling in. He rushed to the door, but his hands could not grasp the door handle anymore. He felt a wave of sweat break out on his forehead and neck and he turned to Susan again:
‘Oh, my god, help me, Susan, help me….’
Susan, still oblivious, had now found the Johnson files and after stacking them neatly into date collated order, put them under her arm and walked to the door. John stood aside as she opened the door and then brushed past her, into the darkness of the corridor. There was something awfully strange about the building, and the people in it. Something alien, hideous and aweful, John thought, as he sped down the corridor, past reception and into the street. He had to get outside, into the light.
It was darker than ever outside and that indeed was truly extraordinary. It must be well past nine and there was absolutely no sign of the dawn. Even the streetlamps seemed to be darkening their souls to hide in the night. John shouted into the soundless dark:
‘Someone, help me – please, please… someone help me!’
The passers-by, each head down, scurrying past, wrapped up against the cold. Only an old news-seller called out: ‘Morning editions! trying to entice a sale. As John drew up in front of him, he looked down at the headline on the news-sellers board: ‘Terrible Tube Crash at Clapham Common – dozens feared dead’.