© Cypherwrite Technical Services 2016
Kit Thornton
Short Stories
It   is   but   a   few   months   since that     delightfully     warm     and pleasant    summer    day    when    I first   began   to   lose   control   of   my mind   and   my   destiny.      Now,   as   I sit   uncomfortably   on   the   broken armchair   in   my   dingy   lodgings,   I know   that   I   must   endeavour   to write   my   story   while   I   still   have the      ability      and      sufficient strength   to   lift   my   pen.     And   all the       time,       every       waking moment,    I    am    waiting,    alert, ears     sharply     tuned     for     the sound         of         my         mobile. Desperately,   passionately,   I   am willing   the   instrument   to   ring,   and   yet   I   am   terrified   that   it might do so. Where   should   I   begin?      Orphaned   before   I   was   six   years old   and   brought   up   by   indifferent   foster   parents,   I   suppose   I had   a   less   than   ideal   childhood.      I   could   tell   you   how   I bluffed   my   way   through   school,   how   I   learned   to   augment my   meagre   pocket-money   by   relieving   innocent   shoppers   of their    wallets    and    purses,    how    I    first    experienced    the delights   of   the   female   sex,   but   none   of   these   is   relevant   to my   story   and   none   would   be   likely   to   win   me   your   sympathy. Perhaps   I   should   relate   the   finding   of   a   more   honest   path   to success   and   fortune,   for   this   I   did   achieve   (surprisingly,   you would   be   entitled   to   think)   during   my   meteoric   rise   from tea-boy to junior executive in a well-known merchant bank. But   truthfully   this   tale   can   only   begin   on   that   fateful day   in   July   when   I   responded   to   the   ringing   of   my   mobile telephone.
I   had   slipped   out   of   the   bank   for   a   brief   coffee   break   and was   walking   quickly   through   one   of   the   little   lanes   just   off Threadneedle    Street,    in    the    City    of    London,    when    I    felt against   my   thigh   the   familiar   vibration   that   preceded   the ringing    of    the    mobile    in    my    trouser    pocket.        Naturally    I flipped   open   the   phone   to   take   the   call.      Instantly   I   was mesmerised,   stopping   so   abruptly   that   the   woman   following cannoned   into   me,   swearing   eloquently   as   she   rearranged herself before hurrying on. Keeping   the   phone   pressed   against   my   ear   I   moved   to   the side   of   the   lane   and   huddled   in   an   alcove   out   of   the   hot   sun and   away   from   the   bustle   of   the   morning   crowds.      The   sound that   had   so   caught   my   attention   was   like   nothing   I   had   ever heard   before.      Although   I   have   listened   to   that   same   sound on    several    occasions    since,    I    still    find    it    impossible    to describe.      I   could   not   tell   if   it   was   music   or   song,   or   speech, or   perhaps   some   miraculous,   melodic   blend   of   all   three.      I was   transfixed,   hypnotised,   enraptured,   as   I   absorbed   the cascading   cadences   of   those   bewitching   notes.      I   have   little notion   of   how   long   I   stood   in   the   alcove,   for   just   as   the   sound had   no   beginning,   so   it   had   no   end;   it   held   me   under   its   spell and    somehow    the    sound    reached    into    me.        Deeper    and deeper   it   went   until   it   seemed   to   be   in   communion   with   my very   soul.      And   then   I   began   to   detect   the   voice,   the   soft sibilants   and   seductive,   secret   accents   delivering   to   my   inner being a message that I knew I would be powerless to ignore. “My    name    is    Parthenope,”    the    voice    seemed    to    be saying,   “I   am   your   controller.”      I   did   not   understand,   and   at that   time   I   had   no   fear;   or   if   I   did   have   a   fear   it   was   only that   the   wondrous   sound   might   cease.      Already   I   was   aware that    I    had    been    hooked    and,    like    an    addict    craving    for nicotine,   alcohol   or   heroin,   I   would   not   be   able   to   survive without the stimulant that only the siren’s call could bring  me.
Parthenope   told   me   that   she   would   call   later   that   day and   then,   like   the   muted   swish   of   receding   waves   on   the shore   as   the   tide   goes   out,   the   mysterious   sound   drifted away.      Bewildered,   I   slowly   closed   the   phone   and   replaced   it in my pocket. I   was   unable   to   return   to   my   work,   and   after   wandering aimlessly   through   the   lanes   and   alleyways   of   the   city   for   an hour   or   two   I   rang   the   bank   to   explain   that   I   had   been   taken ill   and   would   not   be   in   for   the   rest   of   the   day.      I   had   no   idea what   the   following   days   and   nights   might   have   in   store   for me,   and   indeed,   if   I   had   known,   I   would   there   and   then   have walked down to the river and thrown myself in. It   was   not   easy   for   me   to   accept   that   silence   could   be so   powerful   a   weapon   against   me,   but   as   the   hours   passed by   I   found   it   almost   impossible   to   bear   the   pain   of   that silence.      Yes,   of   course   there   was   a   constant   cacophony   of noise   all   around,   but   I   was   like   a   drunk   bound   hand   and   foot in   a   wine   cellar.      When   my   phone   did   ring   I   would   snatch   it from   my   pocket,   only   to   snap   it   shut   again   as   soon   as   I recognised   someone   from   work   or   a   friend   wanting   me   to join   him   in   a   round   of   golf.      I   craved   the   siren’s   call   and   yet I was in dread of it. Eventually    I    returned    to    my    luxury    apartment    in London’s   West   End.      I   was   hungry   but   with   no   desire   to   eat, exhausted   but   with   no   desire   to   sleep.      I   longed   to   hear again    the    mystical,    soothing,    terrifying    voice    from    my mobile.        What    was    happening    to    me?        I    had    found    the strength   to   raise   myself   from   the   ranks   of   streetwise   thugs to   a   position   of   some   respect   and   significance;   yet   now, quite    suddenly,    I    was    helpless,    hopeless,    and    already beginning to fear for my sanity. No   sooner   had   I   taken   the   phone   from   my   pocket   and tossed   it   onto   the   bed,   and   then   lain   down   beside   it,   than   it
vibrated   and   rang.      I   flipped   it   open.      It   was   the   sound   I craved and instantly I was transported into that other world. Once   again,   as   I   lay   there   alone   in   my   room,   I   felt   the tender   voice   of   Parthenope   reaching   into   me,   searching   for my   soul.      It   was   then   she   softly   whispered   that   I   was   the chosen   one,   specially   selected   for   research   into   the   very latest,   most   advanced   techniques   for   direct   communication. I     wanted     to     ask     who     was     behind     this     work     —     the government,   secret   services,   private   industry,   some   foreign power   —   but   I   dare   not   interrupt   the   exquisite   sound   that   so entranced   me.      And   Parthenope   continued   to   speak   to   me, sweetly   warning   me   that   I   must   share   the   secret   with   no one,   that   I   must   take   direction   only   from   her   and   that   I   must follow,   to   the   letter,   whatever   instruction   she   would   give me.     At   this   point   I   could   hold   myself   in   check   no   longer   and I   began   to   speak…   Instantly   the   precious   voice   stopped,   the ethereal   tones   dispersed   in   my   empty   room.   Parthenope   was gone;   the   beautiful,   mystical   sound   had   ceased   and   I   was left    desolate    in    the    silence.        Desperately    I    pressed    the buttons   on   my   phone   -   calls   received,   numbers   stored,   ring- back    –    but    without    result;    there    was    no    hope.        The connection   was   broken   and   I   was   alone   again.      There   was nothing   I   could   do   but   lie   there   waiting   only   for   the   siren’s call. It   was   to   be   almost   two   weeks   before   I   next   heard   the voice   of   Parthenope.      I   found   it   increasingly   difficult   to   eat, to   sleep,   even   to   think.      I   became   unkempt,   careless   of   my appearance.      On   the   rare   occasions   when   I   ventured   out   of my   West   End   apartment   I   could   only   meander   listlessly   about the   local   streets   and   parks.      I   received   the   expected   letter from    my    employer;    it    began    sympathetically    enough    but ended   with   the   warning   that   if   I   failed   to   get   in   touch   I would   be   facing   dismissal.      I   received   a   letter   from   my
landlord   reminding   me   that   the   rent   needed   to   be   paid.     And I   knew   then,   somewhere   deep   in   my   psyche,   that   I   had   to fight   back,   to   resist   the   craving   that   was   threatening   to destroy me. After   shaving   and   showering   I   dressed   quickly;   smart casual   seemed   appropriate.      Then,   slipping   my   mobile   into my    pocket    I    left    my    apartment    and    walked    the    short distance   to   the   river.      I   had   felt   the   vibration   against   my thigh,    heard    the    insistent    ringing    of    the    mobile,    but    I ignored   it.      I   could   feel   the   beads   of   sweat   on   my   forehead as   I   fought   against   the   urge   to   flip   open   the   phone   and listen…   but   I   had   reached   the   river,   and   though   my   arm   felt heavy   and   lifeless,   somehow   I   found   the   strength   to   hurl   the wretched   instrument   into   the   water   where   it   disappeared with   only   a   few   spreading   ripples   to   mark   the   end   of   my nightmare. Feeling   more   buoyant   and   alive   than   for   many   days   I headed   home.      I   spent   some   time   tidying   and   cleaning   my apartment    and    I    looked    forward    to    a    good    night’s    sleep before   calling   my   employer   in   the   morning   to   arrange   my return to work. The   undisturbed   sleep   that   I   so   desperately   needed   did not   happen.      It   seemed   that   I   had   scarcely   closed   my   eyes when    I    awoke    in    a    panic,    sweating,    shaking,    my    mind churning    frantically    with    thoughts    of    Parthenope.        I    had destroyed   my   only   connection   to   that   mystical   voice.      In   an instant   my   positive   plans   of   the   previous   day   were   scattered into   the   night   and   as   I   curled,   foetal,   between   the   sodden sheets   I   knew   that   I   was   lost.      Never   could   I   escape   the invisible   bonds   that   held   me   firm;   abandoned,   I   could   do nothing   except   try   to   survive   on   the   barest   necessities   of life as the craving intensified. The   call   came   one   evening   as   I   was   trying   to   rest   in   my
apartment.      Naturally   (if   that   is   the   right   word   for   this dismal   circumstance)   I   had   acquired   another   mobile   phone.   I still   had   my   credit   card   and   the   salesman   would   never   have known   about   the   lies   on   my   application   form.      I   knew   that the   caller   would   be   Parthenope   because   none   of   my   friends had   the   new   number,   and   anyway,   they   had   long   since   given up   on   me,   so   often   had   they   been   rejected   or   ignored.      It did   not   occur   to   me   to   wonder   how   Parthenope   had   obtained my   number   as   once   again   I   was   becharmed,   powerless   to resist   her   tender   words   instantly   entangling   my   spirit.   There was   no   rebuke   for   my   feeble   attempt   to   break   free.   My inner    sense    had    already    made    me    aware    of    what    would happen   next,   so   I   can   scarcely   have   been   surprised   at   what Parthenope   now   told   me.      The   organisation   needed   more funds   for   their   research;   they   knew   that   during   my   rise   as   a successful   young   bank   executive   I   had   put   by   a   substantial nest   egg,   which   was   earning   interest   in   a   private   savings account,   and   they   suggested   that   I   might   like   to   contribute this   to   their   research   effort.      (Suggested!      A   nice   selection of   word,   I   had   thought,   for   what   choice   did   I   have?)      I   was instructed   to   make   immediate   arrangements   to   withdraw the   full   amount   from   my   savings   account,   in   cash,   and   take it,   in   a   black   bag,   to   a   specified   location   in   Green   Park; there I would be given further directions. The   next   day,   as   a   man   in   a   trance,   which   I   suppose   I was,   I   called   at   the   head   office   of   my   savings   bank   in   the city.      Of   course,   the   nature   of   my   request   coupled   with   my dishevelled   appearance   caused   some   consternation   amongst the   bank   staff.      I   was   getting   increasingly   desperate   as   I spoke    in    turn    to    the    desk    clerk,    the    senior    teller,    the assistant    manager    and    the    chief    general    manager,    but eventually   I   convinced   them   that   I   was   indeed   just   who   I said   I   was.      Very   reluctantly   they   packed   all   the   cash   into
my   black   holdall   and   I   walked   from   the   bank   carrying   my   life savings;   a   short   life,   but   a   lot   of   savings.      I   made   my   way   to Green   Park   and   sat   down   on   a   bench,   my   filled   black   bag beside me, to await the siren’s call. This    time    I    did    not    have    long    to    wait.        Bemused, confused,   bewitched,   I   listened   to   the   voice   of   Parthenope as   she   told   me   what   a   success   I   had   been   and   how   much   I had   helped   their   research   to   move   forward.      Now   that   I   had laid   this   groundwork   there   would   be   others   to   ensure   that the    programme    continued    to    make    progress    towards    the ultimate   goal.      Parthenope   did   not   enlighten   me   as   to   the nature   of   this   ultimate   goal   and   I   still   did   not   know   who ‘they’   might   be.      I   was   getting   the   feeling   that   I   had   outlived my   usefulness   and   with   growing   horror   I   realised   that   I   might never     again     hear     the     wondrous,     mystical     voice     of Parthenope.      Gently,   tenderly,   that   voice   now   breathed   into me   the   irresistible   desire   to   rest,   and   there   on   the   park bench   I   closed   my   eyes   as   my   head   fell   forward   on   my   chest and I slept a deep and dreamless sleep. How   long   did   I   sleep   on   that   park   bench?      Darkness   had fallen   when   I   was   shaken   into   wakefulness   by   a   policeman who    told    me    sternly    to    move    along.        The    black    bag containing   what   was   left   of   my   life   was   gone,   as   I   had   known it   would   be.      There   was   nothing   I   could   do   except   return   to my   apartment,   which   would   be   my   home   for   only   a   short while more. More   letters   from   my   employers   and   my   landlord;   visits from   the   police,   bailiffs,   social   security   officials;   eviction   thrown   out   onto   the   street.      The   vicious   downward   spiral   of self-destruction   did   not   take   long.      There   were   moments when   I   longed   for   freedom   but   still   I   clung   forlornly   to   the hope   that   I   would   one   day   hear   again   the   haunting,   celestial sound of the siren’s call.
And   that   is   how   I   come   to   be   in   this   hellhole,   this   grimy garret   in   a   rat-infested   council   hostel   where   I   sit   in   a   broken armchair    and    occasionally    try    to    sleep    on    a    flea-ridden mattress.    Plaster    dust    sprinkles    down    from    the    ceiling whenever   someone   moves   in   the   attic   room   next   to   mine and   the   stench   from   the   drains   below   comes   crawling   under my door. It    is    many    weeks    since    last    I    heard    the    voice    of Parthenope.        She    has    taken    everything    from    me;    I    have nothing   and   I   am   nothing.      I   am   struggling   to   dredge   my mind   for   the   memories   that   I   now   share   with   you   in   defiance of   my   controller.      I   believe   that,   at   last,   I   have   found   a   way to   defeat   the   sorcery   of   Parthenope,   to   block   out   the   lure   of the   siren’s   call.      For   me   it   is   too   late,   but   I   need   to   write down   the   secret   I   have   discovered   in   the   hope   that   it   might be read by others before they too fall victim.  It is this — But wait!  My phone is ringing; I have to answer it… © Kit Thornton 2012 The Siren's Call was first published in Scribble magazine, Summer 2010. (www.parkpublications.co.uk)
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