In this digital age it remains a mystery how the “before its time” digital watch never took over the world. A useful invention for people who didn’t understand the Roman numerals on their dial or the intricacies of hour and minute hands, the digital version had in some versions red neon numbers. A special button also illuminated the watch in the dark. And the stopwatch, wow, this was ground breaking stuff. Now obsolete at least we have digital radio to amuse us. So many stations, so much choice. I like the soap operas on Radio Blah. These everyday gothic soap stories might not be to everyone’s taste as yarns ain’t like they used to be.
The laptop with the faulty battery
Nancy Wheeler was going to be thirty. The day before her birthday a surprise party had been arranged by her husband using all his surreptitious guile to leave Nancy ignorant of the celebration in her honour. Nancy’s close friend, Jessie Bird was excited for Nancy and she was making last minute adjustments to her make-up before she and her husband would leave to be at the party before Nancy as is the convention at surprise parties.
“Are you ready, James? What are you doing?” Jessie asked.
James Bird had just finished making the last of his chess moves against an online opponent using his laptop that had a faulty battery. The mains plug had to be on continuously to keep the console powered. With their children shepherded away at relatives James could concentrate on his game and just given his foe a discovered check. Get out of that one Karpov. Kasparov. Korchnoi. Kramnik. Kalashnikov. Karravagio, whoever you are?. The list of chess masters with their surname beginning with the letter K amazed James. No famous Birds in the chess world only the basketball world. And he played with the team that was pronounced with a hard K.
“Krisssakes.” James had switched the laptop off and was confronted with the legend.
Do not turn off or power off your computer.
Installing update 1 of 45.
“James we need to go.” Jessie’s voice was more strained, more worried, more animated, more concerned, more agitated.
“We-we can’t go yet.”
“We need to go now so we are there before Nancy. I want to shout, surprise, at her.”
“The laptop is installing updates. It’ll only be-be a minute.” James looked at the screen. It was still on number one.
“Listen. We have to go. Everything is timed to the last second.”
The machine now registered 2 of 45. James wanted to give it a thump. That type of retribution used to fix his dad’s TV aerial. Corporal punishment was frowned upon by today’s new technologies. Too fragile, by far. 3 of 45.
“James, you will have to switch that thing off. Pull the plug out.”
“I-I can’t do that. The updates will be corrupted.”
“What are you talking about? Corrupted.”
“If I turn the power off before the updates are installed the next time I put the laptop on there will be registry issues and all sorts of retrieval messages and windows warnings. It’s a lot of hassle that-”
James Bird’s lament was curtailed by the telephone ringing. Nancy picked up the receiver and was hollered at down the line by Drew Wheeler, husband of Nancy. Drew was angry at their non-appearance. They were cutting it fine if they were to beat Nancy to the party. Relaying this news to James, Jessie used words she had heard Vince Cable use to describe the jailing of Chris Huhne.
“This is a terrible tragedy”
“No it’s not. It’s not a tragedy. And what else could a tragedy be except terrible. You don’t get happy tragedies, funny tragedies, laugh out loud tragedies, smiley face tragedies. They’re all terrible and there’s not even any need for the terrible. This is being tautologous,” James went on in a right fandango, “And it can’t be a tragedy because it hasn’t happened yet.” he looked at the laptop. Installing update 6 of 45. Tragic.
“Will you just pull that plug out?” shouted Jessie, nearing the contraption that was causing all the consternation.
Will the laptop install the updates quicker or will it have its power source wrenched from the wall? Will the Birds make it to the party before Nancy? Will Drew draw a line at letting in late-comers? Will James’ chess foe expect the discovered check and have a Killer King-Krushing Komeback move? Why doesn’t someone buy a new battery for the laptop? You’ll have to tune in same time tomorrow to find out.
Fade-out with instrumental music.
The Wheelers had moved into a new home. Still at the embryonic decorating stage they had shepherded their children over to their close friends, the Birds, for a few days. Close friends being relative as Drew Wheeler was still angry at the housewarming gift presented by the Wheelers. Probably, James Bird’s idea.
The Faber book of Chess Openings.
Nancy Wheeler was still excited about their new home. “Isn’t this great, Drew? I love finding all the nooks and crannies we missed when the estate agent showed us around. There’s so much to discover. Go and have a quick peek in the loft, will you, darling?”
Drew pulled down the steps leading to the highest place in the house. I’ll get Bird back, he muttered under his breath. This Christmas I’ll give him a CD of Led Zeppelin IV. Drew had a few spare copies of this.
The loft was empty save for an old canvas painting of a seaman.
“It’s empty, save for an old canvas painting of a seaman.” uttered Drew.
“Well, bring it down and we’ll chuck it out in the morning.”
The rest of the day passed in matrimonial bliss as the Wheelers, without the children getting under their feet completed many of the chores needed to do in a new house. Bedtime arrived and they snuggled down for the night. Lights off.
Within a few minutes they heard noises coming from above them. It sounded like footsteps. Nancy felt a chill go through her bones. “What is that?” she cowered under the clothes.
Drew had also heard the footsteps. Feigning sleep he did not answer. An elbow in the ribs brought him back to life. “What is that?” asked his wife again.
“It’s nothing.” The nothing had suddenly become a bit louder. The footsteps were now sounding as if they were sloshing in water. Drew tried to play down the menace as his bravery had just put its shoes and coat on and left the building jumping on a bus to anywhere but here. “It’s just the radiators crackling.”
“It’s coming from the loft,” said Nancy “you better go up and see what it is.”
Drew did not fancy the idea. Although he had checked the loft and there was nothing in it, it was clear that there was something in it now. An unbeliever in the supernatural Drew was convinced the noises could only be from a ghostly source. He was a born again demonologist.
“It’s the painting. It must be haunted.” He said
“What are we going to do?” asked Nancy.
“We’ll put it back up in the loft in the morning. That might calm the spirit down.”
The splashing footsteps were now accompanied by a throaty laugh. Nancy and Drew did what any one would do in such a situation. They assumed the foetal position. This curling up into a ball defensive mechanism stops the villains in their tracks. No one in the history of horror films has ever seen a man with an axe attacking a rolled up person in bed. One with their feet out the covers, yes. One in the foetal position, never. Never?
Will the foetal position save the Wheelers lives? Is the painting haunted? How many spare copies of Led Zeppelin IV does Drew possess? Are there more nooks and crannies to be discovered? Tune in tomorrow to hear another thrilling instalment.
Fade-out with instrumental music.
The sword’s mighty, the pen’s mightier
James Bird shepherded the children into the living room. With Jesse making cookies James was told to hold the fort for awhile. He looked forlornly at his broken laptop as it sat in the corner of the wing. The laptop was a casualty in the circus this place had become. A consequence of its demise would be the games of chess he would have timed out on. His rating would fall farther than the House of Usher.
“What are we going to do, Uncle James?” said one of the Wheeler children, James didn’t know which one. Stella and Steve both looked the same. It also troubled him that they had got into the habit of calling him uncle. He was far, far removed from that Record shop owner’s son, Drew Wheeler.
James had recently watched Washington Journal and he liked to watch the presenters highlight with markers selected snippets from the day’s newspapers.
“Let’s get our magic markers out.” said James and the kindergarten audience emitted a collective groan.
James produced from a little-used shelf old markers that were still in their wrappers. He tore them open and handed out the pens and scrap paper to the four children, two of them were his own flesh and blood, and told them to draw something they liked. A short time later the children had got used to writing and drawing and settled down, seeming to enjoy themselves.
The TV was showing King Kong and the ape had Naomi Watts in its big fist. King Kang was the alias of James’ current opponent in the online chess world. Double K would have discovered his check and replied in kind. James said to himself that he would never again use the en passant move, fall for a gambit or use a discovered check. He was annotating a previous game in his mind when Jesse let out a shriek.
“Cookies are ready.”
This shriek was followed by a louder one. “AAAHHHH”. The four children had passed out on the floor. The carpet was a spaghetti mixture of limbs and torsos.
“What’s happened?” shrieked the shrieking Jesse.
James investigated the scene. His nostrils quivered and it was as plain as Jesse’s cookies that the children had been intoxicated by the fumes in the marker pens. The smell of some kind of glue was strong.
“They’ve been sniffing the ink.” proclaimed James.
“This is a terrible tragedy.”
Jesse pleaded with James to do something. “Give them the kiss of life or something.”
“I can’t do that, they’re still breathing.” he looked more closely at the prostrate children seeking proof. Sure enough, there was movement in the chests. James, his chess brain with all its variations multiplying possible solutions decided to try another avenue of escape. “Open all the windows and let some fresh air in.”
Running around like a couple possessed, Jesse and James opened their windows and this rush of pure air awakened the children from their stupor. As they groggily came around the front door opened and there stood The Wheelers, wondering what was going on. Drew Wheeler had a present for James for watching his children. He carried under his arm the canvas of a painting.
Will the Birds ever baby sit Stella and Steve again? Is the painting the one of the sailor? Did the cookies get eaten? Will James never accept the Keres King’s gambit (C33) in future? All will be revealed tomorrow. Remember to tune in at the same time.
Fade-out and instrumental music.