By Murray Shelmerdine
I wake up into an emergency. Megan is shaking me.
“Tom! Tom!” she is saying. “Get up!” I get up and pull some clothes on. I head for the bathroom.
“Hurry up!” she shouts through the door. I hurry. Then I’m on my way to the kitchen to make coffee. She grabs my arm.
“No!” she says. “There’s no time for that!” She drags me out the front door.
There’s this terrific traffic jam. We hurry up the road toward Muswell Hill Broadway.
“What’s happening?” I ask. “Where are we going?”
“To the roundabout,” she says. “That’s where it is.”
“What?” I persist.
“I’m not really sure,” says Megan, “but they were hysterical about it on GMTV. I think it’s something really fantastic.”
“Oh yeah?” I say. But everybody else seems to have caught the excitement.
There are stationary vehicles all along the road. Lots of them have been abandoned. Three are police cars. People are coming out of their houses. There’s a growing crowd of pedestrians pushing towards the Broadway. It’s like being in Highbury when Arsenal is playing Man U. We’re having to hustle our way through.
I take Megan’s hand, and we sneak off the road at Cranley Gardens on to the nature walk where the railway used to run up to Ally Pally. All the roads we can see from the viaduct are blocked. It looks as though no cars are moving at all, but helicopters buzz back and forth above us. Some kind of fighter plane barrels low across the sky. The noise is staggering.
When we get on to Muswell Hill, the road’s packed with people. Some of them are standing on the tops of cars and vans. We can see at least five television cameras bobbing about over people’s heads. We have to push really hard to make any progress toward the roundabout. Everybody’s gaping up. I catch a glimpse of something shiny.
The fighter plane hammers back in the opposite direction. We all duck and hold our ears. Megan clutches my sleeve and I follow her, squeezing round to the back of the Green Man. She used to work there. She points out the fire escape. We clamber up it and climb over a little fence on to a bit of flat roof. We go to the edge and look down.
At the roundabout, in the middle of the road, at precisely regular intervals, are nine enormous oval plinths. On each of the plinths stands a fifty-foot-tall, beautiful, bald, naked woman, shining silver, as though she were made of polished chrome. The women aren’t moving. They look as though they’ve been frozen whilst walking round in a circle, all in the same direction. They’re similar, but not identical, like sisters. They’re rather plump, and they have a remarkably relaxed aspect. One looks especially serene, but there’s another couple who look mischievous, and one who’s clearly a bit mad. They’re close enough to hold hands. They’re silent. They reflect the crowd and the buildings and the immobile vehicles in vivid but distorted images.
Around each plinth, the crowd is being held back by police in riot gear with automatic rifles. There are two empty police mini buses long since overrun by the crowd. Several bold civilians are standing on top of one, and there’s a television crew from Sky News on the other. A chunky cameraman has a television camera, big as a rocket launcher, on his shoulder. He pans around the silver circle. Then a woman reporter stands in front of the camera and speaks to it. She has one finger in her ear. All around the crowd people are holding up their mobile phones to photograph and video the astounding events at Muswell Hill. Some have digital cameras. Little flashes pop here and there.
Sirens are wailing from other police cars or ambulances that I can’t see. Then, I catch the flashing lights of a big, red fire engine. Somehow it’s crawling through the crowd down the middle of the Broadway. It’s the only vehicle moving. It bulldozes a black Range Rover out of its path. People flow away from in front of it and create little agitated whirlpools that gradually subside. As it approaches the nearest silver woman, a firefighter gets on to the extending ladder. The fire engine stops. The firefighter lies down on the ladder. Someone shouts an order. The sirens all stop, one after another. Now the only things disturbing the silence are two police helicopters hovering above the ring of silver women. The beat of their rotors mixes into a single hypnotic counterpoint. A cloud passes in front of the sun and then moves on. Somewhere in the very far distance, an uncontrolled siren wails.
A man and a woman climb on to the roof beside us. It’s Daryl and Samantha.
“I thought we might find you here,” says Samantha.
“What’s going on?” asks Daryl.
“No idea, mate,” is all I can reply.
The fire ladder is raised. The firefighter has a heroic demeanor. He looks like a big action-man, holding on to the rungs. The ladder begins to extend. The red of the fire engine is reflected brilliantly from the surface of the nearest women. For a second, it gives the impression that they’re moving. But nothing moves except the ladder. Everybody’s staring at the man on the ladder. The firefighter draws level with the head of the nearest silver woman. He looks at the back of her head. She turns round and faces the firefighter. The crowd gasps. The firefighter and the silver woman look at one another. Then she lifts her hand and plucks him from his ladder. She holds him by the back of his jacket. He dangles, dazed, awed. She smiles at him. Then she bends down and deposits him gently on to the ground. She stands up again. Other firefighters come to the man’s rescue. They gather round and inspect him. They lead him away behind the fire engine.
The police take aim. The police helicopters come towards the silver woman who removed the firefighter. She lifts her arm, slowly, gracefully towards the nearest helicopter. She holds out her hand. The helicopter approaches. It hovers. It lands on the woman’s hand like a gigantic dragonfly. The other helicopter circles round her head. The woman brings the helicopter toward her face. She makes a big “O” with her mouth. She blows. The helicopter spins up and away from her, way up towards Ally Pally.
The camera operators are all going mad trying to follow the crazy flight. Somehow the pilot manages to regain control of the machine. It steadies. It returns. The pilot is a hero. The crowd applauds. The two helicopters hover together, now at a respectful distance. The silver woman resumes her stance.
There is another disturbance, on the ground this time, from the direction of Queen’s Avenue. A small, fierce man in a long black coat breaks through the ring of police. He’s carrying a large cross. He’s very red in the face. All cameras turn towards him.
“I know him,” says Samantha. “It’s Pastor Brown from the Church of the Enthusiastic Evangelists. He sometimes comes in to The Inferno to save our souls on Saturday nights. We offer him drinks. We invite him to dance with us. He always refuses. Then the bouncers throw him out.”
“Away, ye Whores of Babylon!” screams the man in black. He brandishes the cross toward the nearest silver woman. “Return to the depths of hell from whence ye came.”
“Some people,” says Samantha, “will do anything to get on the telly…”
Pastor Brown staggers right up to a plinth. He puts the cross on it and, with some difficulty, climbs up beside it. Two armed policemen hurry to the plinth.
“Get down, sir!” shouts one of the policemen. The man on the plinth struggles to get his breath back.
“I must fight these messengers of Satan!” he gasps. He turns to the silver women. “Back, ye denizens of the filthy depths!”
“I can’t answer for your safety if you continue!” shouts the policeman.
“I do not fear for my safety,” bellows the pastor. “God will protect me against these foul abominations!” He picks up his cross. “Go back to the infernal regions, you obscene beasts!” he howls. He swings the cross like a sledge hammer. It whacks into the leg of the silver woman with a loud clang. One of the arms of the cross drops off. The silver leg shows no sign of damage.
“Down, down, you hateful Satan-seed! Plague-bearers! Lascivious deformities!” he screams, and bashes the leg again with the remains of his cross.
The silver woman lifts her leg, elegantly. Then she stamps on the pastor of the Church of the Enthusiastic Evangelists. He disappears under the silver foot. There is silence. His legs protrude. Blood runs on the plinth. There is a shocking combination of silver and black and red. It is all caught on hundreds of cameras. I’m appalled. Then I comfort myself with the idea that he’s probably gone straight to heaven. Or thinks he has. Or thought he would have…
“Look!” says Megan. “They’re moving.”
All the silver women are moving. And they’re making a noise. A ghastly horrible screech tears the air apart. The helicopters begin to circle above the roundabout. Extremely loud and very unpleasant sounds are coming from the silver women, and they’re undulating. They screech and scream in a squall of disharmony. They begin to dance a grotesque and angular dance, each on her plinth. It’s horrible. And at the same time it’s extremely provocative and stimulating. The women rotate, punch, kick, and elbow the air around them. They produce a tremendous caterwauling. The helicopters fly away as if to take counsel.
The silver women crouch and then jump up and down on their plinths, gesticulating and gesturing, screaming and bellowing. The crowd draws back from the amazing spectacle, swaying and shouting. People seem to be getting crushed. Big spaces are created around the silver plinths. Cameras and mobile phones everywhere twitch and jerk from place to place as though demented.
All of a sudden, the silver women turn to face the center of the circle. They reach up and out with their arms and stand on their tiptoes. They stop screaming and begin a kind of disharmonious humming. The crowd around them gradually calms down. The silver women continue to hum and begin to relax their stretched limbs. The humming becomes more harmonious. It’s pleasant to listen to. It’s compulsive. It’s blindingly beautiful.
I grow warmer inside. I begin to feel very comfortable. Megan sits down at the edge of the roof. I sit beside her. Daryl and Samantha sit down as well. Within the harmonious humming, the silver women begin to sing melodies. They’re heartbreakingly beautiful. The sounds become quieter. As far as I can see, the whole crowd is sitting down, even the police and the firefighters. I’m filled with a feeling of extreme well-being. I see beautiful abstract shapes and have sweet tastes in my mouth. The air seems to quiver. For the first time in my life, I feel good, complete. Whole. I take Megan’s hand. She smiles at me. The silver women are silent and still again. It starts to rain.
Everybody gets up. There is a sound like huge sigh, then a murmur of subdued conversations. Half a dozen umbrellas unfurl. People drift away. The rain booms down. The crowd scatters. Only the TV crews and the police remain. Megan and I run down the fire escape and hurry home as quickly as we can. We dry ourselves, prepare a cafetière, and settle down in front of the telly. Every single channel, except the ones that sell jewelry and keep-fit devices, is broadcasting pictures of the silver women. Most of them are showing the demise of the pastor over and over.
On BBC2, we see a well-known presenter on an extending platform, the sort that people stand on to replace the bulbs in street lamps. It’s stopped raining. He is at the level of the head of a silver woman. He’s chosen one of the mischievous-looking ones.
“Are you going to be here very long?” asks the presenter. He holds out a microphone to the silver woman.
“Yes, I think so,” says the silver woman, in a silvery voice. “We like it here.”
“Did your colleague deliberately step on the pastor?”
“He was attacking her,” says the silver woman.
“Well, I must tell you that your action has provoked a lot of anger and resentment. You’re being discussed in the House of Commons at this very moment. There could be a violent backlash.”
“I hope not.”
“You must understand,” says the presenter, “that people here don’t like that sort of thing.”
“Oh dear,” says the silver woman. “They’re probably going to be really upset when the silver men arrive…”
Murray Shelmerdine was born in Fife, Scotland many years ago. Several of his plays have been produced including one on BBC radio 4. His poems have appeared in various publications including The Huffington Post, The Morning Star, and Philosophy Now magazine. A number of his short stories have been published, and his fantasy trilogy Mozel is available from Amazon. He plays the guitar and sings whenever anyone lets him, and sometimes gets paid for it. He has recorded three CDs of original songs with the Rrrants production company. He also runs an eco project in north London and organises adventurous children’s parties in the woods: www.queenswoodcafe.co.uk. CDs of his original songs, available from Rrrants are “Litanies,” “Kid’s Songs You May Not Know,” and “Bewildered by Love.”
This story was originally published in the collection: “Out of the Woods” by Queenswood Press in the U.K.