THE VILLAGE STORY BOOK
"OH BIG BROTHER", A short-story by Jan Davis.
John Drake and his fiancée, Janet, were getting ready to go to a Charity function in the West End. It was to be a gathering of high ranking colleagues from various agencies around the city, and after a meal and a pep talk by a couple of senior officers they were to relax and enjoy a special cabaret which was billed as being “The No. 1 Illusion Act In The World.”
They were both not looking forward to it. After working all day, the last thing they wanted was to have to rush around and get ready to go out again. They were to be married in a year and their time was far better spent working on the new house they had bought back in the summer. However, it would be frowned upon if they declined so after a final check round they closed the front door and hailed a taxi.
When they arrived the place was already filling up, the best seats by the stage had already been taken but Drake figured this to be a good thing as perhaps they could sneak out early without being noticed if they sat at the back. The local catering students practicing their skills duly served the meal and after sitting through three monotonous speeches by the top brass, the tables were cleared and the cabaret finally began.
The stage was lit and the room went dark. A voice announced the act and when the curtains drew back there stood a middle-aged man wearing some sort of public schoolboy outfit. It consisted of a black blazer with white piping around the edges, tan coloured slacks and canvas shoes. He was very jolly and after cracking a few jokes, he asked if there was anyone in the audience that would like to come up on stage and help with the first part of his performance. There were murmurings and everyone looked away and pretended they were looking for somebody, or made small talk between themselves rather than be dragged up on stage and be highly embarrassed.
Drake had not really noticed what was going on because he had already downed three bottles of wine and was feeling the effects. It was warm inside the room; he was full up from the dinner and was beginning to mellow. Suddenly his colleagues in front were clapping and heckling him and the next moment he was pulled out of his stupor and led to the stage.
Drake was definitely not the type to volunteer to this sort of thing and a couple of times he started to walk back to his table. However the crowd, relieved that a victim had been chosen instead of them, forced him back to the front again.
The strange man on the stage turned and looked at Drake, and for a second Drake felt a slight buzz between his eyes. He was aware that this man had some sort of power over him now. The man’s eyes were very dark and piercing and Drake found himself completely unable to think clearly. He was being manipulated and couldn’t do anything about it. Everyone in the audience was watching intently as the strange man led Drake into a wooden box. He was to walk in it, have the door bolted then Abracadabra, the strange man would spin the box three times and Drake would disappear. With all his might, Drake tried to will himself not to go in but was helpless. He meekly walked in, smiled and then had the door shut and bolted. He found himself dropping through the floor and being immediately surrounded by four henchmen. He stood there for a second then tried to make a run for it but was brought down, bound and gagged. An oriental lady came forward with a syringe and jabbed it in his arm. He couldn’t resist and within a couple of minutes had sunk into a very deep sleep.
Meanwhile, back on stage the strange man had spun the box, opened it and they saw Drake had disappeared. After bolting it again, he spun it once more then opened it. Out walked Drake! “Magic” the audience said and clapped loudly.
The new Drake walked back to his table and his fiancée was smiling and telling him how out of character it was of him to join in this sort of thing, and could he tell her how the trick was done? She was chattering on and he was sitting there nodding his head in agreement and when the next act was announced, he suggested they leave while everyone was busy watching and have an early night. She thought this was a very good idea, and so after gathering her handbag and the menu and place name cards as souvenirs of this remarkable evening they left quietly.
The real Drake was by now well on his way out of London. He was put into the back of an ambulance and it was heading down the M4, lights flashing and siren wailing. They took off his clothes then dressed him in identical clothes that the strange man on stage was wearing. They shaved a small patch of hair away from his neck and injected a microchip into him. Immediately a bleeper started on the machinery in the ambulance and when they had finished with him, they put a blanket over him and left him to sleep off the effects of the sleeping draught and also the three bottles of wine.
When he woke up he had a roaring headache and a dry mouth. He had no idea where he was but the room was very attractive and the sun was streaming through the open window. He lay still and could hear the sea. He was at the coast somewhere! How could that be, he was in London last night at that function wasn’t he? He thought some more and remembered the wine and then the going up on stage and slowly the penny dropped and he recollected the under-stage activity. Where was his fiancée? Where was he?
He got off the bed and went to look out of the window. He was in a large white building close to the sea. He looked up to his right and saw a lookout tower and to the left he saw a small village clustered on a hillside with yet another lookout tower. Above the window was a security camera recording every movement and it was not long before a knock came at the door and a couple of men walked in. They were smiling, and shook his hand and welcomed him and said how nice it was to meet him at last. He said very little, but did ask for a pot of tea and a couple of aspirin. This was hurriedly arranged for him and after a while he began to feel better.
He was curious to know where he was but every time he asked the two men, they just smiled and said not to worry, they will take him to see the top man as soon as he feels able to make the journey up into the village. Drake, being a fit man, instantly stood up, eager to get this mystery solved and get back to London. As they passed through the door the first man turned to look at Drake and for that split second, Drake felt the buzz between his eyes again. They walked out of the large white building, turned left and started slowly climbing the road up to the top of the hill, passing various beautiful buildings. Sitting around were people of all ages, dressed in bright summery outfits. Most had striped tee shirts and light slacks and everybody was smiling and enjoying the hot day. Some had striped brollies to keep off the sun’s rays, and some had striped cloaks spread out on the ground for sitting on. There was a brass band playing, the fountains were splashing and he had the feeling that he was indeed very lucky to be here amongst these people.
As they neared the top of the hill in the village, they led him up a set of steps to a large building that was like a small cathedral. It had a dome on top and when he walked in, he gazed upwards and saw a lovely mural on the dome’s ceiling. Through a set of doors he met the head of the village. He had the feeling he had met him before but he couldn’t get his mind to work properly. He knew that once again he had been overpowered by this strange buzz and couldn’t do a thing about it.
The man introduced himself as Maurice and invited Drake to take a seat. Drake sat down then as he looked up at Maurice, he felt the now familiar buzz but this time he had clicked back to normal. He stood up and looked around him and asked what was going on. It was quite dark in the room after the sunny day outside, and for a few minutes his eyes had to become accustomed but soon he recognised Maurice as being the strange man on stage last night. "O.K. what's going on" Drake growled. "Where am I and what has happened to my fiancée?
Maurice just smiled and flicked a couple of switches on the desk, which illuminated a large television screen on the wall. There was Janet and her fake fiancé at home, sitting over breakfast laughing and recalling the previous night's events. He was wearing Drake's dressing gown and sitting in Drake's kitchen. There were all the familiar objects of this room including the washing up left from last night. A deep dread came over him. He knew exactly what was going on. The Government had ways and means of changing people's identities through mind-bending drugs and delicate plastic surgery. They must have been working on this one for years though; the deception was so great, even Janet was fooled.
“What’s it all about then?" barked Drake. He was used to dealing with the top brass of the Security Service and never minced his words. "You deliberately set me up and force me to appear on the stage with you, then drug me and bring me here against my will, substituting another man in my place. What's behind it?"
Maurice picked his words carefully. "We were approached by a television company some time ago, to make a programme about the life of a secret agent, a fly on the wall documentary sort of thing. These sorts of programmes are very popular now with the public, and the company has to keep coming up with new ways to keep the viewers glued to their sets. This is a long-term project; they expect to run it for a year with a monthly screening of your exploits.
We've been watching you for years, and noted your enthusiasm for your work. The company have put forward plans for a show that will allow the public to see how long it would take a top agent, such as yourself, to find ways and means of escaping from a prison. Fortunately for you the prison is this delightful place you are in now."
Drake relaxed and smiled. It must be a joke, a massive joke on him. He was a bit of a loner in the Service and had made a few minor enemies with his insistence of perfection at all levels. "OK, the joke's up, let me in on it now" he said.
"My dear chap" said Maurice softly "this is no joke. We have arranged with the owners of this village to rent it for a couple of years. We have already put in high security levels, and we feel that even you will not break through. You will have your own home from home, be given light work to do and be encouraged to join in the activities that we will create for the entertainment of the other inmates. You will take your time to explore and try to find ways and means to make your escape and we expect to see you try on average of every two weeks. Every move you make will be monitored by the television company, which will be set up here underground.
"What if I don't agree to this?" growled Drake. "What if I just sit in my home day in, day out and don't play the game? You have no programme then; yes that’s what I'll do - now go and think on." Drake sat smugly with his arms folded and waited for Maurice's reaction.
Maurice flicked the TV. screens on again, and sure enough there was Janet and her substitute fiancée snuggled up on the sofa together looking like a couple very much in love. "Then Janet goes ahead and marries who she thinks is you. You see them together, they make a fine couple. That's what will happen. It is just insurance to make sure you go ahead with this." Can you live with the consequences if you fail to go through with this?" As an added precaution to keep this from Janet, we have arranged for your substitute to be posted abroad for twelve months and she will accompany him until your eventual release. We feel we have thought of everything to make you accept."
"If I do, then what's in it for me when the year is up?" said Drake.
"If you escape before the year is up then you have a million pounds in traveller's cheques, keys to a brand new home and a Lotus Seven sports car. If you don't manage to escape then you end up with nothing" but of course you would get your girl back. Even we wouldn't be that heartless. Anyway sleep on it my dear chap and we'll see you tomorrow"
Maurice signalled to one of the security guards and Drake was taken to a small cottage nearby. As he went to enter, the door automatically opened. Inside was an exact replica of his home in London. He was left on his own, the door made a quiet humming sound and shut. In the kitchen he found the cupboards full of food, the bathroom had his slippers and dressing gown ready and the lounge had many familiar items in it, including his record collection. There was even a cup of tea waiting for him on the table. He drank it eagerly then lay down on the bed and began to try to piece together the events of the morning and what he needed to do to escape from this ludicrous situation. He never had a chance to think for long for soon the effects of the tea and what it contained took over his mind and he fell into a deep sleep.
The following days and months were to be a trying time for Drake. He did as Maurice said and familiarised himself with the layout of the village. On the first few days he wandered about and couldn't see any obvious restraints. He could see that the village sat on an estuary so figured out the sea couldn't be far away. He looked all around and saw nobody watching him or any monitoring equipment, so started to run out across the beach. He was going well; just round the corner he could see houses and signs of life. The smile was soon wiped off his face when invisible laser beams brought him down. These beams knocked him senseless until the authorities got to him. It seemed that in fact they were everywhere, even set in the eyes of the granite statues. To his dismay he found he could trust nobody either. All the inmates of this place had a glazed look on their faces and a simple expression. They had all had the hypnotic treatment he suspected. “I wonder what they are getting out of this” he mused. Drake was truly on his own here, and realised he had to rely on his training and wits to get out.
On the outside, the programme was a massive hit with the public tuning in, in their millions. A monthly telephone poll was set up to ask the public whether or not he would escape and thousands rang in every time. Every moment of Drake’s life was scrutinised, even when he slept. It seemed that everyone was talking about the programme, some even writing their thoughts on web sites on the Internet and discussing his torment with others. His only sanctuary was when he used the bathroom but even then he wasn’t sure if a camera had been installed, he felt nothing was impossible.
The weeks were passing slowly and Drake had tried every trick he could to escape. He had trusted a woman who promised him escape in a helicopter. He had trusted too, a group of men who were to help him escape by sea, but they let on to the authorities at the last moment. The cruellest one of all was when the powers that be purposely let him escape only to find that a middle-aged woman, who ultimately betrayed him and sent him back to the village, now inhabited his flat. Now he was utterly convinced Janet had been sent away. He thought about her all the time. The thought that she was being betrayed, and thinking of her and the substitute together, planning their forthcoming wedding made him feel sick in the stomach. How would she feel when at the end of the year, she found out how she had been duped? Would their relationship be strong enough to get over it? He had severe doubts. He found himself unable to sleep most nights and would often creep out of his home after dark and wander round the woods trying to get his head round the enormity of the situation. Even now hidden cameras were following him, some zooming into to witness his torment. He had seven more weeks of this hell and then hopefully he could get back to some sort of normality.
His training in the Secret Service had instilled in him the will to fight to the end. He could never just give up and wait until the release date. Every day he thought of possibilities but the village authorities had his every move captured.
One day he was in the hotel building where he had first woken up. It was a very civilised place and he often spent an afternoon there propping up the bar. There were a few staff on duty and he was intrigued to hear from their accents that they were of Russian origin. Having mastered many foreign languages in the demands of his job, he picked up on the conversation. They were quietly discussing a cave, which apparently was under the hotel itself. They were planning to lift some stocks of alcohol, which was stored there, and sell it on. He waited until the bar was closing and hung around keeping an eye on what they were up to. If there was a cellar, in a cave, he figured that there must be another way in which the beer and spirits were delivered.
He stood outside the building having a cigarette idly looking around, and kept casually glancing inwards towards the bar. One minute the staff were there the next they had disappeared! There was nowhere they could have gone, to exit the bar they had to lift up the front and walk through. He would have seen them as they all left. He decided to come back the next day for another look.
The following evening he sat in his usual place at the bar and kept a listen out for any snippets from the bar staff. Sure enough the theft had gone ahead and they were boasting about how much they had made from selling it all. He drank more than usual and to the amusement of the staff started making a spectacle of himself by singing Irish songs to the other guests and acting thoroughly drunk. He had quite a clear head as he was quite a drinker and could hold his liquor well, but the others were not aware of this. He stood up and pushed the bar counter up and made out as if he was about to serve himself. The foreign workers laughed and let him get on with it but already Drake spotted the escape route! It was there! Just behind the optics wall there was a panel, which to his trained eye was a false panel if ever he'd seen one. The sweat was standing out on his forehead now; he was so close but couldn't blow it now whilst there were so many people present. He would have to come back later and see how things were; he couldn’t ruin his chances now as he was sure he was under surveillance as he started back into the village to his cottage.
He left it a couple of days then on the Friday afternoon he sat at the bar and ordered a beer. It was early on and only one young man was in attendance. He got into conversation with him and bought him a drink, then another until the lad was getting talkative and trusting this mild mannered regular. Soon Drake found out what he was hoping - that behind the panel was access to the wine cellar, which in actual fact was an old cave. After another few shots of whiskey the bar man was totally intoxicated and allowed Drake into the bar area. Drake realised he was being watched and it was only a matter of time before the control room took action but if he was quick there just might be a tunnel or something which the lasers wouldn’t be able to penetrate and probably the distance would be far enough away for them to be ineffective anyway.
He wildly pushed each panel behind the bar, nothing happened. He then violently elbowed them in turn, looking round to the door expecting the guards to come crashing through at any minute but still nothing happened. He swore under his breath, and in frustration kicked out at the skirting board. His face dropped when slowly the side of the bar swung open and revealed a corridor behind which was lit with red emergency lighting. He gave a quick look around at the empty bar and young drunk bar tender and slipped through the doorway. He must have passed a beam because as he went through into the corridor, the bar panel closed silently behind him. He was well stressed now, his heart thumping and his mind racing. After all his attempts to escape, here he was on the road to freedom and he couldn’t think straight. Instinctively he knew he had to run, so he started off into the gloom not knowing where it led, or what his fate may be. He passed what he was sure was the entrance to the cellar, and after a while he came across a set of metal steps, with the abrupt end of the corridor. He would have to climb up to whatever was waiting up there but there was no alternative so with sweating palms he started the ascent.
He climbed up and up it became pitch black. Suddenly he could hear faint noises coming from somewhere so he stopped on the ladder and listened. He definitely heard people talking, and not unfriendly either. There was children laughing and he could hear vehicles passing nearby. The only thing that bothered him was how was he to find his way out? A few more steps and his head cracked on a solid surface. He had reached the top, now what?
He felt around and grasped a small handle. It was cold and metallic and when he moved it, it turned round. He pushed a little and could see a ring of light so assumed it was a kind of trap door.” This is it then” Drake thought. “I shall either be free or will face a welcome committee once I open this” He pushed upwards and the door gave away easily and for a moment or two he was blinded by daylight. When he had become accustomed to the light he opened his eyes a little fully expecting the entire security section waiting for him, but no! He poked his head up through the hatch cover and saw that he was in the corner of a large car park, which was surrounded by trees. He could tell it was still quite early in the afternoon as there were people milling around, and cars were being driven off. If he got out now, there was a good chance he would be seen, but the alternative was to close the hatch and just wait at the top of the steps, which could be fatal if the authorities were already on to him.
Decision made, he slowly pushed the hatch cover fully open and drew himself up and out. He was used to this sort of action and had escaped on his wits many a time. With eyes constantly flittering around watching, he got out, put the lid back down and slunk away into the undergrowth where he would lie low until it got late. The television organisers had overlooked this escape route. They were not going to look good now in front of their adoring public. Drake smiled to himself and wondered whom the poor soul whose job was now on the line!!
He sat under a tree and thought back on his time here. It was a beautiful place but so sinister. He felt sure he had once seen it advertised in a holiday brochure. Maybe he would come back as a tourist one day; that would be a turn up for the books!! He wondered if they would give him preferential rates, as he was such a good client?
Looking at the foliage on the trees, he gathered it was autumn as they had started changing colour. That would have meant that he had been here for about ten months, well inside the year that had been allocated. The television company wouldn’t be pleased if he escaped this early, after all his million pounds winnings was probably being paid for out of the phone charges made to the public who voted religiously every month. Still, he had to get back to London now and try to contact Janet, or even fly over to find her. What would happen when she found out how she had been fooled he couldn’t imagine. The main thing now though was to slip away from this place before he was recaptured.
After an hour he started moving and followed the small road, which the cars were all taking earlier. He ducked into the hedgerow when a car approached and soon he was on a busy main road with a convenient bus stop. He stood in the shadows until he saw a bus coming then stood forward while it stopped for him to get on. He suddenly remembered that he had no money on him and stammered to the bus driver that he was in a dreadful situation and must get to the nearest station without delay. He was sweating and his words were coming out fast and mixed up. He felt as if he had blown it already but to his surprise the driver just smiled and let him on. Drake sat down and looked out of the window. He seemed to be going over a long bridge spanning an estuary. He knew it was the start of the very one that he had stood looking out over many a time back in the village. The driver pulled up eventually and said to Drake ‘Here’s the Railway Station Sir, and congratulations…you did it.’ So they knew he had escaped and had already admitted defeat. ‘How on earth did they do it’ Drake thought.
Word had travelled fast as when he rose to get off the bus he saw hundreds of people rushing towards the bus waving banners and placards with his photo and name on. They were cheering and were all in really good spirits and as he moved towards the platform of the small station he was greeted by a multitude of film crew with cameras on him at every angle. A rather pretty young female came over and congratulated him too and brought out a microphone which she shoved in his face whilst asking him how he felt now he was a free man. He was suspicious at first and refused to speak but the crowd were so good humoured, not at all like the zombie like folk back in the village that he felt himself relax a little and started to tell the young girl how he felt. All he wanted to do now was to get back to London to sort out his affairs and to find Janet and explain to her what had happened. The young girl said not to worry as it was all being taken care of and before he knew it, they would back together again as if nothing had happened. First of all though he had to go with her, to the local television studio to be interviewed by a few chat show hosts who were keen to get his face on their programmes before he disappeared into obscurity. His normal precautionary attitude gave way to an almost carnival one and he was game for anything, so pleased was he that he had foiled the game show inventors and had actually escaped before the year was up. He would enjoy the fame for now, and when he got back home and things had settled down he would attempt to get his life back to normal.
After three days of gruelling talk shows and news interviews, the powers that be finally let him go home. They chartered a helicopter, which flew him within minutes of his home. There was nobody around which surprised him, but he let himself in, poured a good measure of whiskey and flopped down on the sofa. It was drawing dark now and he was mentally exhausted. He must first get in touch with Janet though before he did anything, as he was desperate to see her.
He didn’t need to wait as while he was sitting there in the half-light, he heard the key turn in the front door and in walked Janet! She smiled at Drake and fell down beside him on the sofa ‘I need a drink too darling’ she said ‘I’m worn out with all that shopping, I’ve left it in the taxi, be a dear and go and bring it in for me’
This was not the reaction he was expecting. He thought she would rush into his arms and they would have a lot of catching up to do, but no, she didn’t seem to think anything was unusual. He went out and brought in all the bags and dropped them in the kitchen. He wandered back to the lounge where Janet was and went up and kissed her tenderly. She reacted equally and he felt as if she was exactly the same girl as he had left all those months ago. He had a massive dilemma now. She had been abroad for nearly a year with whom she thought was he, but it was the fake! How would he be able to keep up the pretence, as he had no idea where she had been, or what the two of them had discussed or visited over the time. He had no need to worry though, she appeared to have had her memory completely erased of this period, as within a couple of minutes she was laughing at him for going up on stage the night before and wondering why he had volunteered for something that she knew he would never usually do. He was deeply troubled by this though and wondered what Janet had had to endure and maybe it was a good thing that she remembered nothing. He was too tired to react too strongly but vowed he would try to sort things out in the morning when he had time to have his first night back with his beloved girl.
He had to hand it to them, they had thought of everything; in the morning Janet seemed just the same as usual. She went off to work although for not much longer for when he received his bank statement he saw that they had deposited the million pounds a few days earlier. They had kept their part of the bargain and he had to admit that the money was rather a softener.
He felt that with all he had been through, he couldn’t take any more pressure. Mentally and physically Drake was washed up. He wrote his letter of resignation, married Janet and they retired to the hills. His bosses tried everything to persuade him to stay but his mind was made up. He felt they had betrayed him. He was such a high-ranking agent; this he felt had degraded his position. There was also the fact that a replica of him was roaming around and this in itself could be dangerous in the future.
For the next few months, he lived a simple life, enjoying the serenity of not having to get up and do his stressful job every day. They had a smallholding and kept a few animals, which kept them more or less self-sufficient. Janet was happy; she busied herself with her home and garden, the country life suiting her. She had lost her city chic style and felt as if her and John were in paradise. She had been so lucky, never doubting him with all his decisions, and far off working conditions, which meant she was left on her own for sometimes months at a time. There was only one time in her life with John that she felt a faint uneasiness and that was some six months ago. She also had strange disturbing dreams in which she was living in a foreign country, surrounded by servants and spending most of her time alone and very unhappy. When she told John about these dreams he was also disturbed but assured her that everyone has flashbacks from years ago and that she had probably thought about when she was a small girl out in India with her father who was a British Colonel stationed out there.
One summer morning, John and Janet got up early as they had planned a day at the coast. Janet was in the orchard at the end of the vast garden picking some fruit for breakfast and didn’t see the black hearse silently drive up the track to their secluded home. Inside the hearse, a bleeper flashed faster and faster as it reached it’s destination. She also never saw the sinister figures get out and enter the house with a canister of knockout gas, and leave five minutes later with her beloved John slumped between them, get into the car and drive quietly away………..
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