11. Oh, you too?

Tick.

Tick.

Tick.

Tock.

The clock on the wall showed a second more, even though the sound echoed of three. Nostrils flared, breath drawn, and head forwards, Angus tried his best to keep his focus not on the clock, or the time, but on something inside his own head that would keep his attention. Was there not some major quandrary? Some fascinating line in the sand that he had seen, some ley pattern that showed promise of some future study? Within the chambers of Angus’ manifold mind, came back the ringing silence that said, very simply… no.

Tock.

Tick.

Augh, all that time, that mental effort moved, and barely a third of the second earned away. This was the strangest of all toils, the task of waiting. He’d studied labours in the past – it was one of the tangential studies of magic, really. The hypothesis – and it was only a hypothesis, one that could scarcely be called historically tenable – was that magic did exist, and was real, but was agonisingly rare. The Chellini hypothesis, referred to in this context as something that sounded important and impressive and didn’t fill in the space between terrible paperback novels as a funny reference to an old conspiracy theory.

Tick.

They wrote about this sort of thing all the time – cheap little novellas, churned out en masse by publishing houses that wanted to satisfy the purchasing decisions of people who wouldn’t go to a bookstore, but would buy something with a spine when it was across the register next to the lollipops designed to lure in children. Angus’ pencil twisted in his grip as he felt the inner walls of himself strain against one another, once again. He knew how magic worked – how ‘magic’ worked, at least. The magic that people told themselves, the lies and tricks that skilled people used to convince people of the most impossible ideas. He, of all people, had to know. And yet, despite it all, here he was, in this office, with the ticking, painful clock, looking to apply for this grant, with this stack of paperwork before him.

Tick.

Thoughts racing, the pencil gathered speed. Thin brown lines along yellow shaft shifted under his gaze, and for the briefest few seconds, Angus could distract himself by watching a tiny star forming at the center of the pencil’s spin. Thank god for that – with this sort of technique he could, perhaps, stave off boredom for as much as thirteen more seconds.

The door opened, and the pencil went flying. Looking up sharply, Angus’s throat dried sharply, lips parted, fingers gripping the air momentarily, as if he could grab his dignity. Lunging forwards, he grabbed the edge of the table before him, and watched the pencil bounce from fingertip to tabletop, then off to the floor, where it spun around and skidded into place next to the door – just in time to land under the foot of the newcomer.

“Oh.” said the voice. “Sorry about that-” And up he looked, and saw not a man. What Angus saw before him was an arrangement; a construction, a package of pieces set together in order to project. Hollywood sunglasses – Angus had no idea what kind of sunglasses hollywood sunglasses were, but he was sure they were overpriced and terrible and worn by prats – resting atop forehead to hide a receding hairline, a bright blue t-shirt upon which was scrawled an ironic sprawl of words, cut off at left and right, but which immediately conveyed the air of some sort of completely unbearable twat, jeans that had contrast but were frayed in all the places that said they had to be purchased in that way, and sneakers that had never once been worn doing anything that could cause the wearer to sweat.

It was hate at first sight.

Then Angus blinked, and realised it wasn’t.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” he wanted to blurt out, but instead what came out was, “Whu-whaht?”

“Hey there, kid,” said the Douche, swaggering in and throwing himself into one of the seats in the prefabricated high school setting. No presentation hit the desk; no research, no elaborate piece talking about the possibility of very, very realistically finding real magic in a world that otherwise seemed to be sodden with mundanity, a skeptical but nonetheless thorough approach that wanted to settle the Chellini hypothesis with some air of rigor and finality. No. Nothing. Just his hand. Then – wait! No! The Douche reached into his jacket, pulled out an ostentaiously fancy iPod, without a case to keep it safe and protect it from scratches, showing a few nicks and scratches around the edges, before tossing it, face-down onto the desk. “Trevor Spector. You’re?”

I know who you are! I know what sort of dreadful sensationalist supernatural spectral bullshit you peddle on a channel that supposedly was dedicated to learning and history and I just want to pull your hair out from the inside you completely disingenuous douche. leapt through Angus’ mind. Instead, he managed, “Ang-gus,” before being sharply cut off.

“Alright, Gus, great;” Trevor said, leaning forwards, looking at the stacks of paper but not at them. “Just so you know, this grant is a big deal. A million dollars dedicated to this kind of research? We’ve got three ghost hunt locations set up already, three big deals, three very, very big deals!” He said, waving a finger. Not once did his eyes settle on Angus’ – they instead hovered somewhere near his forehead and ear, looking keenly at the body of Angus, but never at Angus. “You see,” and then Angus had a hard time hearing more words.

Trevor Spector. Birth name probably Trevor Balls or something like that. What an utter stain, a sensationalist ‘ghost hunter’ with his own TV program, making low-budget low-information tat full of jump scares, trying to parley his own gullibility into something financially meaningful. Oh, I know who you are. I know what you do, and I know that right now, I have the science of the Chellini hypothesis, I have several graded papers, I have peer review and research into the historical curiosities and untestable events, I have years as a magician’s assistant and engineer under my belt, and this grant to work out whether or not this phenomenon is real is mine. You can’t out-style and out-slick me here, you sanctimonious fucking-

The door opened again, and the last of Angus’ pencil gave its final squeak. Trevor looked up at the newcomer – and suddenly, that demeanour shifted. No longer two strangers competing for something – or a wannabe alpha male trying to smack down his opposition with his own hollywood stenched dick, Angus figured – Trevor shifted gears entirely.

“Why, Mr Errenthorpe,” he said, oil slithering out of his every word. So phony. So artificial. There’s no way in hell this artificial prick is going to get any traction on this grant. This is an issue that needs to be treated seriously. Angus permitted himself just the faintest smirk.

This was going to be easy.

*
Tick.

Tick.

Tock.

Hm. Seems that that sound was Angus’ watch, not the clock on the wall. Somehow, from out in the When you hated someone, everything they did became offensive. Whether it was the manner of dress, or the manner of communication, or even innocent things like a pair of sunglasses purchased from a roadside cafe to keep the glare out of one’s eyes.

Papers fluttering under his arm, Angus looked up and down the street. Blowing his hair out of his eyes, he reflected on just how his research would be further impeded by something as vast as a million dollars. The grant, really, wasn’t going to be any good – it’d be better to go home, and to once again review his work. After all – the meeting had been interrupted by the news report of a school exploding, swarmed all over with glowing green insects that ate brickwork.

Angus looked down at his paperwork. What he needed, right now, was to push the feelings of resentment he’d had rising in his chest since Trevor entered the room, and had only blossomed further when he’d grabbed the aging millionaire by his wrist, dragging him outwards with the words, “Quickly, to my van – we have to catch this.”

It hurt, to be a midpoint in someone else’s story. But hey, Angus could console himself… research was probably about to get easier

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