‘This better not be a joke. There aren’t even tramps here.‘ I muttered as the icy wind whipped at my legs, rustled my anorak and threatened to yank my umbrella out of my hand.
A lone amber streetlight flickered weakly at the end of the narrow street, barely illuminating a rusty corrugated steel wall and what looked like a wire mesh cage. If it wasn’t for the hammering rain, then I’d bet anything that you couldn’t even hear the traffic from here.
John placed a warm arm around my shoulder and said: ‘Nope. It’s the real deal. Bit of a fixer-upper though.‘ A smile crossed his face: ‘That is, if I can find it.‘
‘If you can find it?‘ I arched my eyebrow and shivered slightly. John chuckled to himself and gestured towards the streetlight.
‘I still can’t believe you bought a flat… here. I mean, how are we supposed to get home? Buses don’t even come here.‘ I sighed.
‘Memory. The city planners might have forgotten about this place but, once we’ve been back and forth a few times, it’ll be second nature.‘ John smiled again as we neared the erratic amber light.
By now, my umbrella seemed to be losing the fight against the elements. Gripping the handle like a fishing rod, I stared at John and said: ‘So, where is it?‘
Ignoring me, John wandered over to the cage and crouched down for a second. I heard a quiet click. A flame flickered in the gloom. A few seconds later, a loud creaking noise echoed through the air. Above the pattering rain, I could have sworn I heard John mutter ‘Come on, work already!‘
‘John?‘ I said. ‘John!‘ I shouted. A second later, the air was filled with a deep thrumming sound and a cacophony of tortured squeals. I gasped. The umbrella flew from my hand and danced across the puddles into the darkness. I was about to run after it, but I heard John shout: ‘Over here! Come on!’
A second later, another amber light flickered into life. John was standing inside the wire mesh cage and beckoning for me to join him. I glanced back at the darkness. If my umbrella was still out there, then it certainly didn’t seem like it. Sighing, I made a beeline for the cage.
‘Don’t worry, I’ll get you a new one.‘ John said softly as he held the rusty door open for me. A ghost of a smug grin crossed his face: ‘After all, we can afford it. Can you believe this place only cost five hundred credits. Five hundred! Freehold too!‘
‘For this?‘ I lowered the hood of my anorak and glanced at the small cage. ‘No wonder. Not even a dog could live in here.‘
John burst into laughter. Even my sternest glare couldn’t stop him from doubling over and howling like a wolf. As he caught his breath, he said: ‘It’s a penthouse suite, darling. This is just the lift.‘
‘This rusty old thing? It’s a lift?‘ I felt my heart quicken. The cage tried to soothe me with a reassuring creak, but it didn’t work. John just nodded and reached towards a scuffed plastic button by the door. I gasped: ‘Wait? Is this thing even safe?‘
‘Should be.‘ He jabbed the button. The floor trembled gently and the air was filled with anguished squeaking again. John grinned. ‘Might need a bit of oil though.‘ Before I could think of a reply, the floor juddered firmly. A sinking feeling filled the pit of my stomach as the lift began to rise slowly.
Placing his hand in mine, John stood in silence as the lift cleared the building opposite. As mad as I was at him, it was hard not to admire the view. Against the curtains of rain, constellations of multicoloured neon glittered like diamonds. Sky-cars sailed past like tracer bullets. Plumes of blue smoke climbed solemnly into the void above.
Finally, I said: ‘Wait. There’s got to be a catch. You don’t get a room with a view like this for five hundred credits. More like five hundred thousand.‘
‘That’s the beauty of it. If I hadn’t dug up the blueprints, no-one would know it was here. Even the people at the planning department couldn’t trace the owner. In fact, they hadn’t even heard of this place. All of the best surveyors, cartographers, historians and archivists. And there’s still undiscovered territory here.‘
‘A lacuna?‘ I muttered.
‘A fancy word for a gap in the memory. I read about it in a magazine.‘ I noticed a smile cross my face. ‘We’ll be living in a lacuna.‘
‘I like it!‘ John grinned. A second later, the lift let out a quiet groan. Then, with a loud clunk, it stopped. With a flourish, John swung the door open and gestured into the darkness. In the faint moonlight, I could make out a small paved path and a white wooden door. John rifled through his coat and said: ‘I hope I didn’t forget the keys.‘
‘Don’t even joke about that.‘ I stepped out into the freezing rain. John rushed ahead, the key gleaming in his hand. A second later, I heard the lock click. Another second later, John was silhouetted against a bright white light. I rushed into the small hallway. The smell of fresh paint filled my nostrils.
‘You’ve decorated?‘ I laughed. ‘And to think I’d thought you’d just gone out drinking.‘
‘Wasn’t me.‘ John stuttered. ‘This is my first time here too.‘
‘Not even funny.‘ I rolled my eyes as I reached for a shiny brass door handle. As I turned the handle and gave the door a push, I could have sworn I heard John mutter something.
For a second, I didn’t know what I was looking at. The lounge looked exactly like something from a trendy magazine – except for the heap of rags in front of the fireplace. With a puzzled grunt, John walked over to it and knelt down. A second later, he gasped and jumped to his feet. Something rolled out from beneath the rags and clonked into the coffee table beside my feet.
Before I could even look down at it, a quiet click echoed from the hall. Half a second later, the lounge door gently swung closed. On the back of the pristine white door, in shaky ochre letters, the words “It WANTS to be forgotten!” stared back at me.
I glanced down at the object beside my feet. Two empty sockets and a row of yellow teeth stared back at me. I screamed.