The Black Square
The doorbell kept up its ear-splitting buzz as Dave Callow bounded down the stairs to answer it. He was fresh out of the shower, wearing only a hastily belted white robe and frantically rubbing his brown hair with a towel. He was expecting a delivery and this was probably it. A new mother-board for his PC. Without it, he couldn’t finish his latest book; and with his publisher demanding a final draft by next Friday, he really needed to get it fixed and start clickety-clacking on the keyboard like somebody demented.
Throwing his towel over one shoulder, Callow reached out and twisted the latch on the front door. The bell was still buzzing like a wasp in a jam-jar, grating his nerves. He opened it and squinted against the glare of hot sunshine that stabbed into his eyes. Writing for a living had made him practically house-bound, lazy even. For him, strenuous exercise was a brisk walk down to the off-license for a bottle of red wine at night. And he certainly wasn’t egotistical enough to sit in Starbucks, sipping espresso, pounding away on a laptop.
I am a WRITER! Hear me ROAR!!
The faint smile that started to grow on Callow’s lips vanished quick-smart. There was no FedEx man standing on the doorstep waiting for a signature. Instead, there was a very thin and pale gentleman wearing a black double-breasted suit and saggy trilby hat. His face was long and gaunt, with jutting cheekbones and a puckered-up mouth. There was no colour to his skin at all. To Callow, it looked like old and crumbling window putty. But it was his eyes that really jolted the writer. They were ebony; like glistening pools of oil. No pupils.
‘What in the name of . . .? Callow began, already taking a defensive step back.
‘Yours, I believe,’ the thin man said. His voice was dry, reedy. He stepped to one side and dragged what Callow first thought to be a large black canvas in front of him. ‘It always was.’ He thrust it forward and Callow found himself automatically taking hold of it.
The old gentleman raised a long and skeletal hand to his trilby hat and lifted it slightly. ‘Good day.’ He then turned with a rustle of baggy clothing and walked briskly away. Before Callow had a chance to recover his senses, the strange old man had turned a corner and vanished from sight.
He looked down at the black square and frowned. It was big, easily four-feet by four, and so black it made his head hurt; right in the centre of his skull.
Yours, I believe. It always was.
Glancing back up, he half expected to see the old man returning; perhaps laughing and saying it was a mistake; wrong house, wrong person, so sorry. But there was nobody there. Cars passed on the main road. Birds sang; trees swayed in a warm breeze.
Callow withdrew inside the house, taking the black square with him. He slammed the door shut and leaned the black square up against the wall. He stood back to admire it, frowning.
‘Well, if you’re my new mother-board, then they sent the wrong size.’
He went down on his haunches in front of it and reached out with his right hand. It looked like a black-painted canvas, but Callow could still feel the atypical ache between his eyes. He stopped just short of brushing his fingertips across it and instead touched them to his lips.
Something didn’t feel right. It looked like a painted canvas; but then again it didn’t. It was so black. The kind of blackness that seeped out from under the bed at night.
In fact, how he’d positioned it now, up against the wall like that, made it appear that there was a perfect square hole in the plaster. It was like a window on some futuristic spaceship showing nothing but the gulf of the universe beyond. Callow moved forward, staring at it more intently. Actually, it did look like a window, but one without glass. Without boundaries.
He didn’t reach out again. Instead, on his hands and knees, he crawled forward and didn’t stop. As he went, he was unaware of a white delivery van pulling up outside his house, of a FedEx guy walking up his drive with a package in one hand, whistling the latest Ed Sheeran tune. He climbed the steps to Callow’s front door and jabbed the bell.
But even as the buzzing filled the hallway, Dave Callow was half way inside the black square, inching forwards bit by bit. If anybody had bore witness to the event, they would have seen the dizzying image of disembodied legs vanishing into a flat canvas propped against a wall. There was also a sound, a guttural noise like somebody breathing inside a tight sewer pipe. His bare feet were the last to go, and once they did all noises stopped.
Apart from the doorbell. That buzzed a few more times, before the delivery driver finally shrugged and gave up. He took the package next door instead, where a young lady was only too happy to take it in.
Inside Dave Callow’s house all was silent. A card dropped through the letterbox moments later informing him of the package’s whereabouts. Hours passed and the sunlight that angled in through the front door’s stained-glass window changed and began to fade.
The black square was starting to decay. Its surface now resembled a dried-up river bed. Fissures criss-crossed it, erasing the blackness. Its whole structure began to sag, to distort and no longer be square.
Six hours after swallowing Dave Callow, the black square crumbled up into powdered ash. At that point there was a series of very muffled thumps from behind all of the walls and beneath the floors. It sounded like there was somebody trapped there; pounding and pounding to be let out. The life of a writer can sometimes be a lonely one, Dave Callow had always been aware of that. And perhaps the old man in the double-breasted suit had been right after all.
Yours, I believe. It always was . . .