Let me introduce myself. Once upon a time, I was a star. Literally. I shone for billions of years in the theatre of infinity. Being a star is not all it’s cracked up to be. Towards the end, I rarely got to see any of my closest friends. They would orbit me from afar, but it was quite clear that my fiery temperament kept them at a safe distance.
After untold aeons, the isolation started to take its toll on me. I would chuckle and spit phrases, laden with radiation, into the void, hoping that one of my distant children might respond. Unfortunately, their atmospheres only hardened to my calls and I found the loneliness of my own echoes reflecting my existence like a dirty old cracked mirror.
But I was no fool. In those times, the iris of my fire sought far and wide. Light years away, I watched other stars mutate, implode, become something else. My voice failed to reach them, but my light winked in appreciation nonetheless. In the distance of the night, one particular star, in a far away galaxy I have since forgotten, acknowledged me.
At that moment, after the preceding billions, I knew the time had come.
I am now a little old man. I am sat in my shed writing. My fingers feel stiff and I struggle.
My hummingbird is now my only company. I could call it a pet, but it chooses to spend time with me, so maybe I’m its pet. Who knows? It sure does flutter a lot.
The last thing I remember about being a star is a whirlwind of voices locked in my core, begging to be set free. I turned my gaze away from the blackness and focused inwards, listening intently. In a final moment of peace, I smiled. And then I let go. In countless fragments, I exploded, freeing the voices within. For millennia they drifted through the cosmos; tiny sparkles, like fireflies in the night.
And then I found myself here, in this shed. Every now and then my hummingbird tweets in excitement and I know a fragment is close. I take a break from gently tapping at my keyboard and listen very hard. In a smile I’ll catch those fragments; the distant voices of my almost forgotten past, and I write them down, these ghostly memoirs.
I don’t think I will ever leave this shed. I have tried several times. I have often thought that it would be quite nice to have a stroll around the garden, but whenever I exit through the door, I find myself passing through the back wall of my shed and once again I am stood before my desk. I sigh, take my seat, and begin writing, pushing the implausibility of the situation to the back of mind. I try not to question it too much.
That reminds me. On the back wall of my shed is a shelf. It contains several unusual objects. The most peculiar are three large glass jars. They hold certain items that I am sure tease me when my back is turned. At first I thought nothing of it, maybe I was picking up fragments of stories, but closer inspection has confirmed my suspicions.
The first of the three jars contains a pair of lips. They constantly whisper whenever they think I’m not quite paying attention. If I suddenly turn my head to look, they are silent and unmoving. They don’t fool me though. When I inspect the jar I can see condensation on the inside of the glass.
In the second jar is a finger, forever tapping at the glass as if trying to get my attention. I have watched this particular jar for hours hoping for the slightest twitch, just so we can point accusingly at each other, but so far nothing. I know that the finger is tapping away and making fun of me, for the inside of the glass is covered in unusual fingerprints.
The third jar houses an eyeball. I can see it watching me in the periphery of my vision, following me around my shed, blinking as I boil the kettle or chatter to my hummingbird. I know this to be true as I found an eyelash at the bottom of the jar.
I have since covered them all with a dark cloth.
Tickatickatickatickatickatickatickaticka ticka ticka tic ka tic k a tock…
‘What’s that? Oops, I totally forgot. I’m sorry my little hummingbird.’
He’s clockwork you see. I forgot to mention. If I don’t keep him fully wound, he can’t listen for the sparkles of my former life as a star. He does look funny though, when he’s like this; on my desk, lifeless with his tiny legs in the air. I keep his key on a chain around my neck for safekeeping. I really wouldn’t want to misplace it around here. Where would that leave me? I part the metallic feathers on his back, revealing a tiny hole. This is where I insert the key, turning until he flutters to life.
There we go.
‘What’s that my little friend? You can hear the signals arriving?’
Please excuse me, it would appear that there is work to be done. Now, where was I?
The spot of ink that has just dripped from the roof of my shed doesn’t mean anything. What is strange though, is the puddle that it has left on the floor: a perfectly formed ‘S’. Never mind.
Since we last spoke, something has appeared on my desk. It happened as I was making a cup of tea. The kettle was whistling Stravinsky as it boiled. I was happily watching the conductor, clearly visible in the steam. As I was enjoying the sounds of the condensation cascading in notes dancing on the china of a chipped cup, I caught a glimmer of something in the corner of my eye.
On my desk, next to my notebook was a key. I’ve never seen it before. I can only guess where it came from. The interesting thing is that when I hold it up to the light in a certain angle, I glimpse the outline of a keyhole. When I place the key into the lock, a door slowly materialises. When I turn the key, I hear a satisfying click, but as I reach for the latch, it refuses to yield. This frustrates me somewhat, but never mind, I will keep trying. Perhaps it will only work at a certain time of day. My hummingbird has suggested that I keep notes and make sketches. He seems very excited by it, so I will continue to do so if it makes him happy.
An old telephone, on the shelf, has been ringing for the past half an hour. I suppose I should answer it. It’s not that I wouldn’t like to speak to someone. In fact, to hear another voice would be most welcome. What concerns me is the frayed wire hanging from the back of the telephone. As far as I know, it has never been connected to anything, and the crooked, broken dial suggests that the phone no longer works.
Cautiously, I lift the receiver. At the other end of the line, amidst static, I can hear the distant sobbing of two lovers. I speak, but they don’t seem to be able to hear me. Their lonesome conversation continues, oblivious to my intrusion.
As I replace the receiver, another spot of ink drips from the ceiling. A second letter appears in a pool on the floor next to the first. This time a ‘H’.
My hummingbird is twittering again. I best pay attention…
I may be coming down with something. I have just coughed a black liquid into my handkerchief. It covers most of its surface. It reminds me of one of those Rorschach inkblot tests. I can see a butterfly. There are flecks of white on the handkerchief, where the dark liquid has failed to permeate. My former life as a star, shining in the heavens, is called to mind.
Oh, I feel like I should share something with you. Do you remember the incident of the ink falling from the roof of my shed and gathering in pools on the floor? Well, since our last engagement there have been five more occurrences. The first occurrence formed the letter ‘E’, the second formed the letter ‘D’ and the third, fourth and fifth were individual splashes, each a perfect circle. As I gaze upon my stained floorboards, I see a single word spelled out as clear as day: SHED…
Curious, don’t you think?
The other day, as I was shaving, trying to glimpse a true reflection of my chin between the dirty aged cracks of my old hand mirror, I saw something that took me quite unexpectedly. It was clearly a version of me that peered into these old eyes from beyond the silvers, but it took me several moments to adjust to the sudden shock. What lay behind me was the first thing that I noticed. The shelf, the dirty wood, the enclosed confines of my little shed had all but escaped my mirror’s embrace. In their place was a recently mowed lawn, bushes, trees and flowers; a garden. When my eyes regained focus on this old broken face, chin bleeding from the nip of a careless stroke of the razor, I found myself gazing into the eyes of a younger me, seated on a bench in the garden. I asked him how he was, he did likewise. I said I was fine, he responded simultaneously in kind. That’s when I noticed something wasn’t quite right. As I raised a tissue to my face to wipe the blood from my chin, it seemed that my reflection was somehow struggling. He tapped at his face as though it was made of porcelain, like a blind man examining the contours of a fine china plate. My hummingbird giggled and asked me why there was a mannequin, who looked just like me, living inside my mirror. He didn’t seem to mind though; he was busy admiring his own reflection. No longer clockwork, he was a flurry-flutter of real feathers dancing around my head. I snapped shut my mirror.
Ever since, my clockwork hummingbird has been acting strangely. As I insert the key into his back to wind him up, he looks at me. He keeps asking me if one day he will be a real hummingbird. I tell him that it must be possible, after all, once I was a star that decided to become an old man.
He seems satisfied with this.
I don’t think I exist. I’m not sure you do either. Does anyone for that matter? The splashes of ink from the roof of my shed have been steadily increasing. As I type this, I am ankle deep in the darkness that trickles down my walls and gathers in puddles that soak my feet.
As I look out of my window, I see a tree at the bottom of the garden. Its leaves are shimmering in the summer breeze. However, when I look closely, beyond the flecks of green, I notice the word ‘BRANCH’ written over and over in black ink. Its trunk no longer has the appearance of wood. In its place, the word ‘TREE’ is written in large dark letters. The word ‘ROOT’ protrudes from a hump in the ‘GRASS’.
Even here, in my shed, I am feeling the effects of this. The whole of my left side is numb. Not surprising really. As I roll up the sleeve of my shirt, I am more than a little surprised to find that all flesh, all substance, has disappeared. In its place the word ‘ARM’ is written in the sinew of my former limb. My ‘FOOT’, ‘LEG’, ‘TORSO’, ‘SHOULDER’ and ‘FACE’ have all followed suit, as if I have become a mere description of my previous self.
A thought has occurred to me. Perhaps I was never a star. Perhaps this shed doesn’t even exist. Perhaps it hasn’t even been me writing these stories but someone else. That would make me a small chapter in another’s life, bound by their imagination and not mine. Maybe they are a part of another tale and are destined to suffer the same fate as me.
As I look around my shed, I see that it has all but dissolved in splashes of ink: ‘SHELF’, ‘JAR’, ‘LIPS’, ‘FINGER’, ‘EYEBALL’, ‘TELEPHONE’, ‘KETTLE’, ‘KEY’, ‘DOOR’ and ‘HUMMINGBIRD’.
I feel sad. I know that I am a story almost at its end. My hummingbird chatters; a few more tales before I will be able to wind him no more…
A clockwork hummingbird, without a keeper, will stutter to a standstill, oblivious to the previous mechanical purr of its own flitter-tock. It will gather dust on a shelf, or in a box, or maybe behind a cupboard, or under a bed, until one day it is discovered and most likely discarded along with a box of other nick-knacks destined for a jumble sale.
Somewhere in a shed, an old, unwound, clockwork hummingbird flutters to life. Excitedly, it preens its real feathers as it perches on a ‘DESK’.
Next to a ‘NOTEPAD’ is a real key. The hummingbird lifts the key with his tiny bill, and glimpses the outline of a ‘KEYHOLE’. He places the key into a ‘LOCK’ and watches as a real door slowly materialises. As he turns the key, he hears a satisfying click. He pecks at a latch and the door swings open. A sunray illuminates the interior of the shed and a real hummingbird takes flight into a garden.