London, present day.
It hadn’t taken long for a crowd to gather around the man’s lifeless body as it lay on the pavement. Its limbs were arranged in an unnaturally splayed position; head pointing awkwardly upwards and a knee bent back on itself so that the man’s foot was almost touching his hip. Despite this, it was otherwise surprisingly intact given the height from which it had fallen. The onlookers snapped stills with their camera phones and filmed the man as blood began to seep from his mouth and ears. Modern society seemed to have developed a morbid fascination with tragic events and for some, documenting and sharing them with others had become the norm. Not a single person stepped forward to attempt assistance, even though any efforts would have been futile. The dead man might have pondered this disturbing behaviour had he still the capacity for thought.
Twenty-three seconds earlier there had been no sound as the dead man fell from the belfry at the top of Elizabeth Tower.
Three minutes and twelve seconds later the dead man’s assailant completed his descent from the tower and made his way out onto the streets. He pushed through the gathered crowd and knelt beside the body. He checked for a pulse, more as a predilection to thoroughness than with any expectation of finding one. His hand then slid down to the man’s pockets, perhaps searching for some form of ID or money. The crowd, which had collectively approved of capturing images of a corpse to be shared amongst their friends, family and the many social voyeurs of the world, appeared to find this behaviour unacceptable. Their delicate sensibilities had been offended and they began to frown and shuffle, looking at one another to see who might step forward to object to the dead man having his pockets searched in this way. They began murmuring to one another, ‘Is this guy a doctor? I think he’s robbing him,’ grumbled one.
‘What’s he think he’s doing?’ spluttered another.
‘Should we call an ambulance?’ someone else asked. All the while the cameras continued to flash and roll.
One camera elicited a sound that the assailant was stunned and confused hear; the distinctive mechanical shutter of a Polaroid-style camera. Turning to the direction of the sound, there was no doubt from where it came. The young woman holding the camera and fanning the photograph through the air was a flash of neon colours. Her voluminous hair was held up in a rough side ponytail. She wore high waisted jeans with leg warmers bunched around her calves and a polka-dot jacket with wide shoulders and flouncy sleeves pulled up to her elbows. A silver cassette player was hooked into her waistband and a pair of bright orange headphones were slung around her neck. She looked as if she was from a different time period altogether.
Twenty-seven seconds earlier, the dead man had been surprised by the unexpected turn of events which had led to him being pushed to his death. He was one and a half seconds into his fall by the time he had even realised he was falling. He spent the remaining three seconds of his life paralysed by inescapable fear. Had he had more time, perhaps a scream would have escaped his lips. The ninety-six-metre height of the fall was roughly one fifth the distance required to reach terminal velocity, but even so, he had still accelerated to almost one hundred miles an hour by then and his body hit the pavement below with a crunch. He died instantly.
Three minutes and forty-two seconds later the dead man’s assailant turned away from the vibrantly dressed photographer and returned to his search. His fingers passed over a shape inside the man’s jacket which could have been a wallet but before he could secure it a police officer pressed his way towards the scene behind him. The assailant was still hunched over the body when he looked up and made eye contact with the officer. The officer pointed a finger and demanded he step back from the dead man.
The assailant did as he was instructed. Still kneeling, he moved backwards so that he was sitting on his heels. He then raised his arms with his palms facing forward as a sign of compliance.
The officer seemed to relax slightly and lowered his hand as he approached. The dead man’s assailant took his chance and rose quickly, springing upwards from his crouched position, shunting the officer aside and hustling towards the crowd. The woman in the polka-dot jacket was still wafting the Polaroid back and forth when he plucked it from her hand as he passed. He was a slight man but wiry and powerful and he bulldozed his way through the conglomerate of people, shoving to the ground those who stood in his way. As he breached the huddle he broke into a sprint, pursued by the officer he had locked eyes with and another who had just arrived at the scene. He ran east across Westminster Bridge, away from Westminster Abbey and Elizabeth Tower.
Fifty-four seconds earlier the dead man had argued with his assailant in the belfry. He needed something from him, something that would help him escape this place. He had been trapped here, alone and confused, for weeks. His assailant could help him get back to his normal life if only he would listen. He asked this of his assailant, but the request seemed to make him more agitated. The dead man had approached him, passively, pleadingly but it was a mistake. His assailant saw the approach as an act of aggression and the two of them fought.
Five minutes and six seconds later the assailant had reached the opposite bank of the Thames. He descended a set of steps to his left, passing the famous aged, green ceramic Southbank Lion statue, before doubling back under the bridge with the officers in close pursuit. As he passed through the underpass the officers momentarily lost sight of him, but there was nowhere else he could run. One officer followed the assailant down the same steps to the left, whilst the other crossed the street and descended the steps to the right of the bridge, hoping to pen him in from both sides. When the second officer reached the bottom of the steps, she had expected to find the man running towards her, with her colleague close behind. Instead, the two officers were alone and regarded each other with confused looks. They both spun around, checking that the assailant hadn’t somehow doubled back or changed direction but the river bank and underpass was clear. They both looked over the low wall into the flowing river below but neither had heard a splash and they could see no one in the water.
One minute and thirty-seven seconds earlier the dead man stood high above the rooftops, looking over London’s night sky. He was beginning to lose hope that he would ever get home. It was an unseasonably warm evening, but he suddenly felt a chill in the air behind him. He turned and in the dim light of the belfry he could make out a disturbance in the air; a strange, spherical ripple. Something like a heat haze, only cold. He reached out a hand and when it passed through the undulating air around this phenomenon his fingers became instantly cold. This sphere seemed to have its own microclimate and goose bumps covered his flesh. Without warning the dead man’s assailant suddenly materialised in front of him as if from nowhere.
Five minutes and fourteen seconds later, under the Westminster Bridge, the dead man’s assailant had apparently vanished into thin air.