Another ghost writer - 1
Originally published in Enigma Magazine as Caveman Within
A short story on the subject of self reported mental illness
I met Aakaashesha Aakhuga in a bookshop in Glasgow. I won’t say which, but it was the big one with a coffee shop on the first floor. I am a dabbling unpublished author, interested in the sort of people who promote their own work at book signings.
He wore a loose trilby hat, sported a salt and pepper beard and looked like I imagine an author would look. He had a small table set up in a corner, covered with a cloth and a variety of books arranged in a tasteful way. Looking closer, I saw they were the work of all sorts of authors, sampled from the shelves in no particular order or genre.
“Sorry, I thought you were a writer promoting his book, but I see you are promoting the shop’s books. What a novel idea” I said.
“That would be a pun of the unintentional variety, I take it,” the man smiled.
“So you work for…?” I waved my hand around the area to indicate either the shop or a question for the filling in of a blank space.
“Oh no! I come here so often that they think I do. Many customers ask me, Aakaa, (he pronounced it R-Car) for help . I’ve been seen helping out here for months.
The staff turnover is such that they think I’ve always been here. I’ve now moved up a gear. The staff think I am doing some promotional thing and so do the customers. Like you, today, Lucian James.”
I started to move away, uneasy in the presence of madness, for which I am ill equipped.
He called after me.
“You’ve done some writing yourself.”
“How do you know?”
“You have looked at the top ten, the three for two offers, and the two for twenty pounds offer. You shake your head as if to say “How come these got through?” and put them down in a disappointed manner. I have seen it many times. There are too many writers and not enough readers who want to waste money risking a read of your books without an endorsement from some celebrity or lah-di-dah literary column reviewer.”
“I’m sorry, I’d better be off. Time presses. Nice to meet you…”
“Wait! You have a story. I will get it published for you.”
“Thank you, but…”
“Here is my card. This one is the best number.”
He underlined it with a pencil. A good quality business card with his odd name “Aakaashesha Aakhuga”, embossed and taking up the width of the card. Not the sort from a motorway services machine.
“If you don’t call soon, I will call you,” he said.
I laughed. He was barking but refreshing at least.
“And how will you call me?”
“Your name is Chris... Well, your real name, anyway. And you have a book to do with a near future. A high tech thriller… your mobile number is …”
“Stop now, please. You’re freaking me out! I’ve never seen you before in my life. I don’t even live in Scotland…”
“Your postcode is…” and he told me. I ran for the door.
Outside in the fresh air, I paused. I walked down by the old Police phone box, which served as a coffee counter. A little rattled still, I ordered a coffee as much for some contact with reality as for the need for caffeine.
“You OK, pal?” said the bloke inside.
“What? Oh, yes. I saw someone I thought I knew, and it wasn’t…”
“You look like you met a ghost, pal.”
But he’d turned away, now that he didn’t have the nuisance of someone fainting or requiring an ambulance right outside his kiosk.
A few days later, I was back at home, not daring to discuss my odd experience with anybody. After all, how could I use it? Excellent dinner party story? Or the first signs? I decided to write it down. Write it down on the basis that writers must write, even if not intending to publish.
I got to about this part when my mobile phone whirred and buzzed around on the table in vibrating mode, like a fly-sprayed bluebottle in its death throes. I let it ring while I wrote this down before I lost it.
…death ...throes…there, and picked it up.
“Aakaa here. Fancy a pint in the Burghley? Or the Green Man? I don’t mind either…” I noticed I’d spelled spelled throes with a “w” – “throws”.
I corrected it absent-mindedly while the voice arranged the meeting time with my distracted other self. What? Who?
He just hung up.
* * *
I made my way in trepidation. My heart thumped. I hadn’t had a panic attack or such a feeling of impending...whatever, like this for years. I had to go and meet him. I just had to. What if he knew where I lived and knocked on my door? What would happen if I was alone?
The Burghley Arms. I peered in through the window. He was there at the bar, making the girls laugh at something. The salt and pepper beard was gone. He wore a different felt trilby hat, an eccentrically long coat with a scarf, sort of Tom Baker from Dr Who, but not quite.
I went in.
“Here’s yours, I took the liberty. A pint of JHB by our own dear Jeffrey Hudson, cheers.”
“Did the girls know what I drink?”
“How could they? It’s the guest ale and you seek its fresh but peppery qualities wherever you go. You drink lager but not Fosters with a splash of lemonade on your disappointed, non JHB, days.”
“Who are you?”
“How about guardian angel, that sort of thing?”
“What do you want? I have no money. I’m not gay. Have I wounded or destroyed the lives of you and yours in some way and now you are here to seek revenge?”
“Brilliant! Write that down, we can use it. Now, let’s find ourselves a seat. Maybe the girls can pop by with the odd bottle of Blossom Hill if I send the right smoke signals, yes ladies?”
The girls giggled and nudged each other while we went outside for me to have an urgent smoke for my nerves. How did he know I liked cheap plonk because I drink what I think tastes nice and doesn’t give me a headache?
Outside we seated ourselves under the old fire and barbecue canopy with its sign – No non smokers allowed here –
“Now Luke, do I call you Luke or your real name even? Why use a pseudonym?”
“My kids’ names. A sort of loving memento; a mention to them. If I dropped one for the other then we would have sibling rivalry in that one still got mentioned.”
“Do you think they really give a toss?”
“Probably not but… never mind. Remind me, why are you here again?”
“I’m here to help you.”
I was into my second cigarette now.
“You won’t die from smoking, Luke. You’ll die from running out of fags and crossing a busy road to buy some more in your obsessive craving.”
“Then I’ll just stop crossing roads…”
“This will cut down your smoking and my obligations are satisfied either way.”
I sat back to listen. I wasn’t going to beat this guy on logic, semantics, or anything.
I scrolled through my phone’s list of numbers. Rude, I know. There it was:
“If you are who you say you are, why not give me the winning lottery numbers?”
“Because, for example, soon Sharon Parsons, a single parent mother of three, is going to win and the papers have the front page held for it. Besides, I have IQ of my own. Interference quotient, that is.”
“How do you…? I get it. Did anyone else see you in the bookshop? No, of course not…what’s happening to me?”
“You catch on quick. As if they would let me set up a table and start pulling books off the shelf…hah!”
I felt cold. I may have sold my soul to the devil once, but when? A drunken party in my youth? He didn’t seem Mephistophelian, Beelzebu…bubian?
He was smiling at me again. Would the Doctor give me drugs? Mother’s little helpers? Would I have to go and sit with a man with a notepad and an air of quiet indifference. In a study with a pleasant garden viewed through French windows?
Aakaa skimmed a beer mat at me. I tore a small piece out of it and stuck the beermat on my nose, mainly because I am cliché ridden and childish. He smiled again.
“I’m not one of those boys you are thinking about. The Doc will give you help. I only look like Dr Who but not quite; because of your imagination. Relax, I could just be a figment of it. I think I’m real. I appear to you as real. Is that tree growing there real?”
I looked at the tree; a stalling tactic. My mind raced and came up with no answers.
“Is it like the one at the shrink’s you can see through the French windows?
Stop stalling while your mind races, and so on…”
I gaped, recovered, pretended to be in control.
“If you are a conman, I don’t see what you can possibly gain. At least I can write about it…”
“My dear fellow, of course you can. And you will.”
* * *
I went to the Doctor’s. Of course I did. Wouldn’t you?
“Been overworking? Overdoing it? Drinking too much? Are you depressed, fed up, bored? Trouble concentrating? Can’t be bothered with your interests, friends; hobbies?”
My silence reassured him.
“You are probably a bit depressed. I’ll give you something to take. Do you want to talk to someone?”
“I don’t want “depression” on my medical records. Or bipolar disorder or anything like that. Can’t you put stress or something?”
“I have a magic keyboard here…let’s see what a consultant thinks and take it from there.”
“What if I think he is wrong? What if my analysis of him comes out in conversation?”
“It probably will. Do you think you’d be the first to analyse the analyser…?”