About the author

Tim Sinclair is an Australian poet and novelist. For more info go to his website.

Episode 1
[first person : the day was dusty : eggs]

The day was dusty. Granular with complications. It was time to get out, but it was only half over, and the exit light was faulty. Intermittent blink at the edge of my vision.

I’d been trying to get to the water all morning, with an absurd lack of success. Misdirection, street rallies, the dull rubber thump of a taxi’s blown tyre. I was walking now. Sweating in the high-walled alleys that seduced me with their easy eastward promises then led me in circles.

It took me until the second time round to notice the nest. Mud and twigs the same colour as the disused doorway. Something wrong with the silence though. Nobody coming back. Don’t ask me how, I just knew. The same certainty which had me stretched and reaching, scooping two tiny potentialities into my hand.

There, in my palm. Two eggs. The most delicate shade of green.

Episode 2
[continue to the water: symbolic : phone booth]

…found me walking, fast. Almost jogging. Desperate to get out of this maze, midday sun sweating the dust to my skin. Hawkers’ cries and the unvoiced entreaties of the dark, cool cafés.

…found me redoubled in my compulsion. The water. It made even more sense now. The eggs stowed safely in my bag for the next stage in their journey.

…found me emerging into one of Old Town’s squares. Slowing into unease in the sudden space. A forgotten general guarding the fountain, a single ancient tree. Undercoat fading from the phone booth in the archway. Gulls on the edge of my hearing. I walked…

…and she found me.

Episode 3
[someone sent to delay him : phone rings : notebook]

Three quick strides into my sunstruck awareness, and her hand was on my arm. Cool skin. It’s not wise to disturb him, you know. A nod at the statue. Not in the middle of the day.

Led me before I knew I was being led. Away from the fountain, around the edge of the square, towards the antiquated phone booth. Sat me down in a shaded doorway. I have something for you. Sure hands drawing out a tattered notebook. Green cardboard cover.

And then the mundane jangle of striker on metal. The telephone. Don’t answer that. Fully into my eyes, for the first time. Flicker of fear. Please

Episode 4
[does not answer the phone : ornithological diagrams : yesterday]

It was the tremor in her hand that stopped me. I took the notebook instead, flicking through its page after page of sketches and diagrams. The claw of a raven, the wing of a swallow, dates and times of sitings. Breeding habits.

She leant in towards me as I paused, and the air turned dark and sweet. On the page in front of me was a perfect sketch of the eggs secured in my bag. Do you recognise those? Her face looming in my peripheral vision, her scent…

… something I’d smelled only yesterday. In the entrance hall of my building as I’d stopped to check my mail.

Episode 5
[gets up and runs : his notebook : gridlines]

And then I was running, without any sense of having got to my feet. Without any sense of having left the square. Without any sense. High walls tumbling through my peripheral vision, sunflashes on the inside of my skull, sweating feet struggling to hold me to the earth.

And then my momentum was gone. Running from what? Something I’d forgotten, but I had to keep moving. Something important…

I paused. Here. Opened the notebook that felt so familiar in my hand. Two eggs. As should be in the nest above my head, that I could tell without looking was empty.

Something important, stumbling on, pushing through the weight of déjà vu. Thirst-cracked and inevitable, seeing myself on some puppet-master’s chart, the tiny dot of my being spiralling endlessly in on the gridlines of his intentions.

A square. A statue. A tree. Where was I?

Episode 6
[she is not waiting : yesterday : the sound barrier]

I was expecting that she’d be here, but I didn’t know yet that she existed. I had to get out. I strode to the phone booth and called the number on the sun-faded dial. Of course I hadn’t picked up. I’d be sitting right there, her eyes upon me. I started shouting. Get out!

Two rings, a beat, two rings. And in the pauses I started to hear my own shouts, echoing back across the time zones …get out… get out… the feedback loop growing until I had to hold the receiver away from my ear.

Her warning. I slammed the receiver down, and ludicrously, looked to the statue. Chipped pedestal, corroded bronze, malice. The sound still growing, now sourceless and gigantic, ancient mortar landing around me. I staggered from the booth towards the edge of the square, struggling to move in the aural onslaught, vision blurring and the fear of a bronze hand on my ankle …get out…

…and I was through.

Episode 7
[underground : cat : preshrunk]

I stumbled against the sudden lack of resistance and threw out a hand to hold myself up. Damp stone against my palm, cool air on my body. Vision clearing to reveal the long corridor I was somehow standing in. Stonework curving away in either direction, intermittently lit by dusty globes.

I sank to the floor, put my head in my hands. I could make no sense of what was happening to me. As though somebody else was making my choices, as though my destiny had been preshrunk and stamped onto the circuitry of my brain.

When I looked up, I was being watched. Green eyes. Hello, I said. The cat blinked once, coolly assessing. My name’s Thomas. I was desperate for companionship. I hadn’t realised. I’m going to call you Cat, ok? Cat blinked again, then walked his black and white form down the corridor. I jumped up and followed.

We walked and we walked. Cat a regular five paces ahead. Finally he slowed to a stop. Leading off the corridor were two archways, two sets of stone stairs. The right led up, the left down. Cat turned. This was clearly my call.

Episode 8
[down : friend : triggering]

Down. It drew me. I considered fighting the impulse, but it seemed pointless even trying. As I vacillated, Cat rubbed against me. He seemed to have decided something. Downwards, eh? Head swiping my leg in an open-mouthed purr. Ok.

Old and worn, but very well made. Regular. Down and down, my stride fitting unnaturally well. I felt like I could close my eyes and keep walking with no trouble. I closed my eyes. Kept walking. Without trouble. Cat’s alert presence by my side, quick steps for my slow ones.

The regular rhythm of my feet on the stones and the skin-thin darkness I’d created began to trigger the most profound sense of familiarity. The most ridiculous, frustrating sense. I’d never been here before, but I knew that if I slowed…here…and reached my hand…there…with just the right pressure on this stone…

Solid thunk, and the feeling of sudden space. By the terms of this game being played at my expense, I should know what was through there, shouldn’t I? But I was desperately afraid to open my eyes.

Episode 9
[library : familiar : bones]

I took a step forward, eyes still closed. Wanting a shock of pain to snap me out of this. Nothing. A few more steps onto a tiled floor, space opening around me. I walked abruptly left, threw out my hand. My fingertips brushed a metal doorknob. Warm to the touch. Dented in familiar places.

I opened my eyes. In front of me was a wooden door. Behind me, around me, stretching inconceivably into the darkness was a library. Wooden shelves, ornate balustrades, ladders on brass rails. Not a single book. It was breathtaking. Wrong.

Deeply unnerved, I turned the handle. The comfort of a crowded desk, stacks of paper, books. I sank into the chair in the corner, trying to ignore how well my body fit its beaten contours. Cat leapt into my lap, and I concentrated on scratching his ears instead.

After a moment I looked up, and the first thing I saw sent a chill right through me. Two wooden stands on the mantelpiece. Carefully engraved brass plaques. Homo sapiens sapiens. Felis silvestris catus. The skull of a human, and the skeleton of a cat.

Episode 10
[study : another person : device]

A movement in the corner of my eye made me jump. Cat’s claws into my leg in warning. On the desk, the arm of a gramophone lifting up, pushing across to the edge of the disc, dislodging a small stack of papers. Notes and diagrams spilling onto the floor.

The hiss and crackle. And then her voice. Don’t worry… Sunshine, sweat, the scent of her, and the scent of my own fear. …I haven’t done this well, I know, but you have to trust me. Please…

At the sound of her voice, Cat had retracted his claws. Now he started to purr. Something else out of my control. Ok. I dropped my hand back to his head. It’s true. You’re being controlled. There are forces out there using you. I can help you, but you have to help me. I’m narrowing down the source. But we have to meet again… Please.

Abruptly, the record finished. The tonearm gliding back to rest. Now what?

Episode 11
[attempts to contact her : she can help : bibliography]

I trusted Cat. Cat trusted her. It was going to have to do. I stood up (carefully decanting Cat onto the seat) and approached the gramophone. Flipped the heavy disc over, and lowered the arm. Feeling foolish. I cleared my throat and spoke into the horn. Hello… Are you there?

Nothing. The tonearm wound into the centre, and spun its small circles. I looked accusingly at Cat, who was washing his leg at me. Turning back to the desk, I looked for the first time at the propped-open book. Complexity of bibliography. Pencilled-in margin scrawls in the same hand as the pages on the table, the notebook in my bag. My hand, as I finally had to accept. That had held this worn-down stub of pencil.

One entry had been repeatedly circled. Lean Fulmés. On resurrecting the dead. I traced around and around the name, graphite smearing my fingertip. I knew what to do now. Spinning the disc up to speed with my left hand, I held the pencil stub in my right, just tracing the corrugated surface. The faintest of crackles, and at last, her voice …Thomas

Episode 12
[dead : used to know her : nursery]

…You’ve been running, but I need you to trust me now… Her ghostly voice so compelling among the crackle. You’ve seen out there… her voice indicating the cavernous emptiness of the library… and you’ve seen in here… piles of papers, confusion, clutter… and you know it’s not working. It’s time to move on.

I nodded. It was. And somehow I knew that Cat wouldn’t be coming. And somehow she knew that was worrying me. … Cat and I go way back. You don’t need to worry about him. He’ll find you… This final reassurance giving me what I really needed. I reached down one last time. Soft hair along my palm. …Close your eyes…I closed my eyes.

Space all around me, but a space defined by wind and water. Sand beneath my feet. I opened my eyes to predawn light, low clouds on the horizon. Gulls. I breathed in, slowly, for what felt like the first time in days. Luxurious breath out.

Beside me, I could feel her presence dissipating. But I have so many questions, I said.
Yes, I know you do. Wonderful, isn’t it?
Her voice merging with the salty air, the breeze.

Standing quietly, I became aware of a tiny peeping. Taking my bag carefully off my shoulders, I opened the flap. Looked in at the two tiny slimy things of beauty nestled in the nursery of my backpack. Cheeping. In need of food.