Safe

By Han Adcock

 

 

Finn lost all of his mistakes. He used to keep them locked in a safe, but one morning, when he went downstairs for breakfast, he opened it and it was completely empty.
He had been collecting his mistakes and locking them away for most of his life. He had amassed a great many… until today, when the safe was empty. Needless to say, he was alarmed, and worried, and more than a little frightened. Had someone come in the night and stolen them? Had they escaped?

Not knowing what else to do, he ran all around the house, hunting for them. It was a large house, because he was a rich man. Once he tired of the search, he ordered the cleaner and the gardener to run about looking in the rest of the house.

Of course, anyone who says they collect mistakes is bound to be considered loopy; Finn told them to look for “anything unusual” and gave them a couple of nets. The only person who knew about his mistakes was him.

His cleaner and his gardener were convinced their employer had finally gone insane, but halfheartedly did as instructed. He was paying them, after all.

When they returned bemused, covered in dust-bunnies, and empty-handed, Finn lost his handle on the situation and picked up the telephone to dial 999.

“Hello?” he yelped down the line. “I’d like to report a thef… kidna… er, missing per… just get me the police, would you?”

Moments later, two police officers turned up on his doorstep.

“Come in,” Finn said, lit a cigarette with trembling fingers, and then felt embarrassed about still being in his dressing gown at that time of the morning. “My safe’s been emptied overnight, and I’d like you to find out who was responsible.”

“What was in the safe?” one of the police officers asked.

“None of your damn business!” Finn retorted, which was impolite for him, but then, Finn was easily stressed.

“But if you don’t tell us what has gone missing, sir,” came the reply, “how are we supposed to find the missing articles and track down the offender?”

Finn dithered. At last he said, “I’m a wealthy man. If I pay you, would you just dust for fingerprints, tell me the identity of the culprit if you find it out, and then keep it confidential?”

The policemen raised their eyebrows. “Are you in all seriousness bribing us to ‘look the other way’ when you, or if you, take the law into your own hands, sir?”

“Never mind. Just go,” Finn said, and shooed them out of the door. “It wasn’t all that important to me anyway.”

“If it’s not important, then why can’t you inform us as to what it is?”

“Doesn’t matter. Go!” Finn ushered them out onto the street and slammed the door after them.

Half an hour later (when Finn was about to go to pieces), there was a knock at the door. One of the police officers was there this time, alone, and looking furtive.

“I recognized the make of the safe,” he told Finn in a gruff voice, and handed him an unobtrusive little card. “Call this bloke. He’s good with cases like yours.” And before Finn could say a word, the policeman turned around and hurried away down the street as if he was afraid there were eyes on him.

Finn closed the door in deep, gradual thought. He flipped the card over and read it. On one side, it said:

“ALFRED WILFRED: FINDER OF LOST THINGS, KEEPER OF SECRETS FOUND (AND OTHERWISE), NECROPHILE, BILLBOARD PASTER, ILLUSIONIST EXTRAORDINAIRE, WRITER OF LONG BUSINESS CARDS (SEE OVERLEAF…)”

Dimly, Finn thought, “Necrophile?” and turned the card over again. There was a number on the reverse side, but no address.

“Should I? Shouldn’t I?” Finn wondered madly like an indecisive wasp. It was tempting to call the number, if only to point out that “necrophilia” wasn’t deemed to be a proper occupation and would probably put off potential customers.

So Finn picked up the receiver and dialed.

A quavery voice, crackly with static, answered at the other end. “Hello-o?” The wavering quality of Alfred Wilfred’s tone only served to accentuate how distracted he sounded. And the background noise! What was that? Was the man standing next to a gigantic set of bellows?

“Yes, hello. Er… good morning. Am I speaking to a Mr. Wilfred?”

“Eh? What’s that?” There was some mumbling and muttering with someone else at the other end, and then Alfred Wilfred’s voice drifted back down the line: “…skangdurdles. Sorry, I was having a word with my apprentice. Yes, it is I, Alfred Wilfred.”

“My name’s Finn. I –”

“Tell me, Mr. Finn, are you a policeman, government official, wanted criminal, or prank caller?”

“I… no, I have a problem…”

“Good. Then we can get down to business. Excuse me a minute –” Alfred Wilfred’s voice grew fainter as he spoke to his assistant. “wiffle…no, of course not! Not like that! Noooo, you’ll short-circuit the bloody thing. What? Of course that’s not a decongestant. Don’t look at me like that! Oh, now you’ve done it!” And back to Finn again: “I really must apologize. You were saying, Mr. Bin?”

“Finn,” said Finn. “I had some very important… things… in a safe, and this morning I opened it to find them gone. I don’t know if they were taken, or…”

“Or…?”

“If they, um, escaped.” Finn said, feeling rather silly.

“Ahhh…” Alfred Wilfred tailed off. “ATCHOOEY! Beg pardon. Ahem. Yes. What you have is, um, one of my models, I take it, for animate, erm… existential objects, is that so?”

“I suppose.”

“Hmm… intriguing. Is it a mistake safe?”

“How on earth did you know?”

“I have my funny little ways and whatnot. I shall be down in two shakes of a nifflanger’s tail.”

“But you don’t know my –”

The pips sounded as Alfred Wilfred hung up.

“That’s it then,” Finn thought, but he was wrong. Sometime later, a knock came at the door.

Finn answered it to find an immensely tall, thin old gentleman on the step. He was wrapped in a baggy, knitted gray thing that must have started life as a dog blanket. In one hand he held a walking stick, and on his head sat the widest, most inconvenient hat you ever saw.

Next to the man stood a nervous, skinny boy with glasses and singed-looking hair.
“Wizard Wilfred,” the tall man said, sticking out his hand.

Finn shook it. “Come inside… wizard? As in, technologically-minded?”

Alfred Wilfred and the boy came in. Alfred had to bend over in order to not bump his head on the door-frame. He smiled in a beatific way and did not answer Finn’s question.

Once they were in, Alfred gestured to the boy. “My apprentice, Wilson,” he said.

“How do you do?” Finn said, and offered to shake Wilson’s hand.

Wilson said, “Erk!” blinked very fast, and tried to hide behind Alfred Wilfred, who ignored this.

“So, Mr. Finn!” Alfred said. He sounded more confident when he wasn’t on the phone. If voices could travel, his possibly strolled. “Let’s see this faulty safe, if you don’t mind?”

“’Course you can,” Finn said, and as he led the way he wondered what “skangdurdles” meant, and what “wiffle” was when it was at home, and what sort of creature a “nifflanger” was. He suspected that this strangely-dressed man was mad, and he felt sorry for the boy.

Wizard Wilfred looked at the safe. He stuck his head into it as far as it would go and inhaled deeply with a loud sniff. “Ahhh,” he said when he breathed out, as if he liked nothing better than to smell metal, while Finn and Wilson stood by, waiting uncomfortably.

Alfred Wilfred stood up and fixed them with an unreadable stare. Then he sighed. “Nothing for it,” he said. “Wilson, get in.”

Miserably, Wilson scrambled inside the safe and drew his knees up. Alfred shut the door.

“Er… hang on!” Finn said. “Is that absolutely necessary?”

“It’s part of his training,” Alfred said, unconcerned. “He’s used to it.”

They waited for five minutes. Then Wilfred turned to Finn and asked loudly, “Shall we have a cup of tea?”

“But… but what about Wilson?”

“Wilson?”

“You know. Your boy.”

“What about my boy?”

“Well… you mean you just… leave him in there? What’s he doing? Fixing it?”

“Testing it. He’ll be fine. I really think we ought to go and sit down and have a cuppa. My feet are killing me.”

They retreated into the living room and had a beverage. Finn wondered why it was that, even though this was his house, Wilfred seemed to be the one in charge.

At last, Alfred Wilfred opened the safe and looked inside. So did Finn. Wilson was no longer there. He had disappeared.

“Is this a trick?” Finn demanded. “Because I won’t look too kindly on you if it is.”

“It is as I suspected,” Wilfred said. “The prospects are grim. What you have is what we in the business like to call ‘leakage.’”

“Leakage?”

“You’ve tried so hard to lock away all your mistakes,” Wilfred explained, “away from the prying eyes of the world, you have overloaded the safe, causing, um… how shall I put this in layman’s terms… causing a wormhole. Yes.”

“Wormhole?” Finn was dazed.

“Your mistakes have escaped into another universe,” Wilfred said. “Another plane of existence right next to this one… a place very similar to this, only slightly different, where you have made slightly different mistakes.” He looked worried.

“You are a nitwit,” Finn said. “Get your lad out from wherever he’s hiding and get out of my house. I need proper help. Not time-wasters.”

Wizard Wilfred bundled Finn into the safe without a word, climbed in after him and shut the door behind them.

“I’ll prove it to you,” he said, calm as nails, while Finn attempted to bite and kick him in the dark, enclosed space.

Then all of a sudden, the space was no longer there, and light flooded in. Finn stopped struggling and stared. He had opened the door to the safe and was looking in, back at… himself. Who was who? Who was this impostor?

“See?” Wilfred panted. “Wormhole. What did I tell you?”
“Who the hell are you and what are you doing? How…?” the other Finn demanded. “Where are my mistakes? What have you done with them?”

“Oh dear,” Wilfred said. “Two herds of mistakes let loose in hyperspace. Oh deary, deary me.”

“What?” the two Finns said in unison, then glared at one another.

“Oh dear. Oh deary, deary me. Oh, deary, deary, Deirdre.” Wilfred muttered under his breath. Then he told the other Finn, “Just shut the door for five minutes and we’ll be gone. Trust me.”

The other Finn suspiciously shut them into darkness once more.

“Wait,” Finn said in the blackness. “What about Wilson?”

“Hmm, yes. What about Wilson? Bummer.” Wilfred harrumphed. “You do realize what this means, don’t you? Both you and the other version of you have lost your mistakes. We are supposed to learn from them, not squirrel them away out of shame. My safes are only supposed to hold a limited number of your more embarrassing incidents that you don’t want other people to know about, like being left naked tied to a lamp-post on your stag night, for example, but so many of my clients never read the small print. They try to squinch everything in. This is why I stopped making them aeons ago.”

“So… what does that mean?”

“Once the mistakes are in another dimension, they tend to breed with the ones already there and create false memories in both, or more, individuals, usually driving them insane. If they go into hyperspace…” Wilfred shrugged. “They cease to exist. They dissolve.”

“Great!” Finn exclaimed, not really listening. “So I’m going to be fine, I could have a brand new, fresh start. Good.”

Wilfred shot him a look that was wasted in the darkness, reached forward, and pushed open the safe door. The other Finn was not there, and they climbed out.

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Once they were safely in the sitting room, Alfred Wilfred turned to Finn and said, “While I go to retrieve Wilson, I do NOT want you to leave this house. On no account must you come after me or try to leave… in case.”

“In case?”

“In case you become… confused… all of a sudden.”

“What?” Finn said.

“Just trust me,” Wilfred called as he climbed back into the safe and began to close the door. “I’m a professional!”

This reminded Finn of a question he’d been meaning to ask. “A professional necrophile?”

Alfred Wilfred paused, one foot dangling out of the safe. “Eh?”

“That’s what it says on your business card – ‘FINDER OF LOST THINGS, KEEPER OF SECRETS FOUND (AND OTHERWISE). NECROPHILE…’”

“Oh, that. Yes I always think it important to keep in touch with people.”

“’Keeping in touch’? Is that how you put it? Well, I think it’s revolting!”

“Well, a ‘normal’ person such as yourself might deem it, I don’t know, unholy,” Wilfred said, unperturbed. “But when someone close to you passes on into the next world, I daresay you’ll be contacting me.”

“I’d do no such thing! Don’t be so freakin’ disgusting!”

“All right,” Wilfred said, in the sort of reasonable, placating tone of voice you use when speaking to someone stupid. “But once they’ve passed away, we’re the only channels they can use to talk to their families. Think on that.”

“I… what?”

“What?”

“You mean to tell me you’re a necromancer?”

Alfred Wilfred’s face clouded over in confusion. Then realization dawned like the reflection of the sun in a muddy puddle. “Oh…! What a typo!” Then, to hide his embarrassment, “I must be going. Who knows what trouble Wilson’s gotten himself into…”

While Alfred had left Finn under virtual house-arrest, Finn shrugged, ate his tea, watched the TV, got bored, and went to bed early.

He woke up eleven hours later, unable to remember anything.

Well, that was technically untrue. If Finn wasn’t able to remember a single thing, he wouldn’t be able to do anything, helpless as a baby. However, he was suddenly finding it very hard to recollect what he’d been doing for the past twenty years.

First, he opened his eyes expecting to be in a different bed, only to find he was in a place he didn’t recognize. He didn’t know what day it was. Then he began to wonder how his body got so frighteningly large and hairy.

Secondly, Alfred Wilfred burst in, and Finn had no idea who he was.

“Who’re you?” Finn yelped, and then wondered who had said that, before realizing his voice had deepened.

Wilfred nodded sagely. “Yes. I did warn you.”

“What? What are you talking about? Where am I, and… and how did you get me here? Is this a kidnap? Where’s my dad?”

“I see.” Wilfred frowned. “How old are you, Finn?”

Finn glowered at him. “I demand you take me home this min – no, actually, I’ll call them. Let me use your phone.”

“I don’t live here, Finn. This is your house. I came here to fix the safe. Now tell me – how old do you think you are? What’s your age?”

“Seventeen.” Finn was reluctant. “Why?”

Alfred Wilfred stared at the man with graying temples in the bed, who was most emphatically not a teenager. “So, you started locking your mistakes away when you were seventeen,” he said. “Hmm… seems to make sense.”

“What?” Finn said. His eyes flickered all around the room, and he drew his knees up to his chin. “What do you mean? Look, if you want money, call my dad. I can give you his number. Just don’t cut anything off me, please!”

Wilfred ignored him. He strode into the room, pulled back the curtains (momentarily blinding Finn in the process) and stood looking out of the window in deep thought.

Wilson dashed in, confusing Finn even further.

“What’s this kid doing here?” he said to Wilfred’s silent back. “D’ you have a load of children in here? Is this a mass kidnap? What for?”

“Erk!” Wilson choked and froze halfway across the room. His glasses were missing, he was decorated with cuts and scrapes, nearly all his clothes were torn beyond repair, and he was covered in a thick layer of strange, greasy dust.

Alfred Wilfred turned. “Ah. There you are, lad. Where have you been? I left the safe door open in the hopes that you would catch me up. You seemed awfully busy when I found you. What exactly were you doing?”

“Nnnn…” Wilson articulated. He began to shiver and quake like he was very cold.

“Social anxiety,” Wilfred explained to Finn, and went over to the boy.

“I’m not sure…” Finn said, and they both watched as Wilson struggled to either cough something up or swallow something that didn’t want to stay down.

“Wait,” Wilfred said, and ran out of the room. He came back just in time with a bowl that had a lid on it.

“Why did you find one with a lid? Couldn’t you have just led him into the bathroom, if there is one?” Finn asked as Wilson gagged. Wilfred pulled the blanket off Finn to cover the boy’s shoulders with it.

“BECAUSE!” Wilfred roared, and slammed the lid on the bowl as soon as Wilson drew back, making both of them jump.

Finn swung his legs out of bed and joined the other two.

“What was that?” he said in a hushed voice. In the second before Wilfred put the lid down, he could have sworn that the substance inside had… moved… as if it was thinking about climbing out and slithering away.

Wilson said, in a teeny-tiny voice, “What now?”

Alfred Wilfred kept a tight grip on the lid, but he eyeballed his assistant. “So that was what you were doing in space,” he marveled.

Wilson said nothing. He looked at the carpet.

“Er, hi? Excuse me?” Finn waved a hand in-between their faces. “Would anybody here like to tell me what’s happening, please? Did I just see that boy’s… vomit… move?” He turned to Wilson and demanded, “What have you been eating?”

Wilson rolled his eyes. “Not sick.”

“You could have fooled me!”

Alfred Wilfred shook his head. “This,” he said, gesturing to the bowl, “is your doing, Mr. Finn.”

“Don’t be ridiculous! I just woke up here! What did you do – sedate me? Where am I?”

“You are in your own home, Finn. You’ve got amnesia.”

“What? I… are you a doctor?”

“I’m a friend. Wilson, perhaps you’d care to explain yourself to the nice gentleman, before he explodes like a lesser-spotted norkle?”

Wilson looked like he would much rather hide in the airing-cupboard, but he obliged: “Um. Mr. Finn. I swallowed your mistakes.”

“You what?”

“I swallowed your mistakes, sir. The ones you lost. It was the only way I had of carrying them back here to you, without them dissolving any further.”

“Which means,” Wilfred said slowly, “you lied to me on your application form, Wilson.”

“Sir?”

“You described yourself as a human being, but you’re not, are you? A human can’t do what you did, and even if they managed to, the mistakes would eat away at them and drive them insane, or they would be digested. With you, this did not occur.”

“No, sir.” Wilson was despondent. “Er, if you don’t mind, sir, I’m not exactly decent.”

Wilfred shook himself. “Oh. Right. Well, go and wash the space dust off yourself, and then we’ll talk more about it. I’m sure Finn won’t mind if you borrow his bathroom and a change of clothes, would you, Finn?”

Finn was completely at sea. “Erm. Fine.”

“So,” Alfred Wilfred said, giving Finn a stare he wasn’t sure he liked. “All that remains now is to sort you out. What are we going to do with you? By rights I should remove the safe, in case the wormhole spreads or in case something or someone else uses it. That leaves us with two logical options: one, set your mistakes free so that everyone knows about them except you, which would be highly impractical, or two… get you to reabsorb them.”

Finn backed away. “I thought you just said… you just said to Wilson…?”

“I did say if a human managed to swallow someone’s mistakes, they would be driven insane, yes,” Wilfred explained patiently. “However this is different, because firstly these are your mistakes, no one else’s, so they belong to you anyway, and secondly, I’m not going to make you absorb them by mouth. You don’t need to do that.”

“What do I have to do?”

“All you have to do, when I remove the lid, is to look at them. Don’t be afraid. I know you don’t remember them, but you already have made them. Just look.”

“That’s it?”

“No. When I say look, I do not mean a cursory glance. If you glance, they will escape, and I will not be able to help you remember the past twenty years. When I say look, I mean look, notice each one, think of ways you could have done things differently if you’d like, but the main thing is that you look at them and stop being ashamed of them. Don’t let them haunt you.”

“Oh.”

“Got that?”

“Um. Yes. I think so.”

“Well, you can’t keep them in a bowl held by a wizard for the rest of your life. My hands are already aching.” So saying, Alfred Wilfred whisked the lid off, Finn leaned forward, and looked…

Everything seemed to turn upside down for Finn, or was he upside down? After a couple of seconds, his head righted itself and some kind of understanding dawned on him.

“Oh!” He blinked.

The bowl was empty.

“Hello, Mr. Finn.” Wilfred grimaced. “Recognize me?”

“Yes. You’re that weird old man whose business card claimed he was a necrophile,” Finn said smartly, and Wilfred chuckled.

“I’ll be taking the safe with me then,” said the wizard, “and my assistant, obviously. Mustn’t forget him, now must I? Dear me, no.” He laughed out loud.

“What is he, if he isn’t human?”

“Perhaps he might still be. Perhaps he just has special abilities. Perhaps he’s a greater-gizzarded splotch-gulper that thinks it’s a human. That I shall have to discover by trial and error.”

On their way out onto the landing, Finn winced and clapped a hand to his eyes. “Uuuurgh…” he groaned, chuckled bitterly, then blanched.

“All right?” Wilson asked, emerging from the bathroom feeling much more human.

“Mm. Fine. I’m just remembering… oh God. There was that time that I…! Oh my God. I’ll never be able to go there again. Urgh. Argh. Won’t be able to look her in the eye…”

Alfred Wilfred and Wilson walked down the stairs, leaving Finn to reminisce.

“I’ll call you to discuss payment in three days’ time,” Wizard Wilfred called back up the stairs, then once they were in the hallway he said, “Give me a hand with this safe, would you, boy?”

Wilson did as he was asked. “What is the matter with Mr. Finn now?” he said.

“Nothing. He’s doing what other normal human beings do – being embarrassed and self-critical. He’s just doing it out loud, that’s all. He’ll be right as a wrangled botchit before long. Which leads me to a question.” Wilfred paused as they lugged the safe over the threshold and out onto the street. “Are you a human boy, or are you indeed a skangdurdle?”

Before he had a chance to answer, they were interrupted by a loud cry of “OH WHY DID I DO THAT? WHY?” from the house behind them, and they hurried away as quickly as they could so reality could reassert itself.

 


Han Adcock is a writer of short stories, short long stories and poetry ranging from the humorous to the bizarre. His work has appeared in Penumbra, Expanded Horizons and Defenestration magazine. He is the editor of Once Upon A Crocodile magazine, and you can find him on Facebook.

Featured image via Flickr: Rick Prokosch, Creative Commons License 2.0

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