ASSISTANCE REQUIRED


All was quiet and peaceful, just as I like it, but my rented apartment dining room was suddenly filled with a sharp, insistent sounding tapping noise,  … - - -     It seemed to echo from everywhere at once, and it was very difficult to pin down the source. I thought it might be a trapped bird, mouse or rat, though my home never attracted such beasts, and I had no pets, not even a goldfish. There were no other people in my Billy-No-Mates apartment, so the very real noise was something of a mystery to me, and a little unnerving.


There was something familiar about the message too. That niggled me. I had vague notions of knowing what it was. ….  - - -  Three dots, three dashes and then three dots again. After a pause, the message repeated, and it was getting faster, and increasingly desperate. My memory jogged. - Morse Code.  I hadn’t studied it, but there was a message I seem to recall being universal in the medium – O S O. No, the opposite, S O S – The standard Mayday call. Help!


Someone or something was in trouble, but in my apartment? How, and where?


“I’m coming,” I shouted, and felt foolish. I put my ear to cupboards, walls, and boxes. The signal wasn’t coming from any of those.  I opened the dining room door, and heard it louder than ever. ….  - - -  It was definitely coming from upstairs. I rushed up and tracked it to my bedroom. I wondered who it could be. It was obviously a person, wasn’t it? Rats don’t know Morse. I half expected to find an ex-girlfriend, or a burglar trapped in my bedroom in some implausible way, but there was clearly no one there. I was beginning to believe in ghosts. I told myself to calm down.


Following my ears, I realized the sound was coming from the window, just outside. My first thought was of a window cleaner and a fallen ladder, but surely he would just shout for help or scream. I know I would.


I opened the window, which had already been partly ajar, and looked out. No stricken window cleaner, or anyone else.  The signal was now louder though.   - - -   


I glanced down, and saw him then – hanging precariously from my window box. My garden gnome. An ex-lover, Lisa, who once stayed for a few months,  had brought him for me from the garden centre, even though I have no garden. She thought he looked cute. I had decided my window box was his best place for him to stay. He made an odd little gargoyle, with his porcelain toadstool chair, and fishing rod that had no chance of reaching fish from such a second storey height.  That rod had saved him, as he had somehow fallen, or been knocked over by some careless or malicious passing bird.  The tiny plastic hook on the string line-rod had snagged on the edge of the flower free dirt-box, but it had been in danger of slipping away at any second. The tapping had alerted me to his plight. Of course, a pottery gnome is not sentient, is he? The.  - - -  Sound had just been him being blown against the wooden box sides by the gentle Autumn breeze – coincidence – not intelligence.


I lifted him gingerly up, almost sending him to shatter on the concrete as I nervously reached for him, and now he was safe. I wondered where to put him. The window box was clearly too small for a nine inch figurine. I brought him in and put him on the mantelpiece, between the two candle-free candleholders my Mum had bought me one Christmas many moons before.


My rescue mission completed, I went to get myself a rewarding beer and settled back down to read a book. A message came from upstairs, tapped out metallically, possibly against one of the candelabras. -  ….  . -   -. -. -    Five letters, the last only being an S, as in the previous S O S cal, but this time the message came only once, and gently, sheepishly, rather than in any sense of urgency. I think my little friend had just said THANKS.




Footnote - The story was written in a writer’s workshop, with the exercise starting off on the opening line, ‘The room was suddenly filled with….’  The Dots were the cue to the writers to take up the story from that point onwards. I took the dots literally as being what the room was filled with, and rolled with it from there.  My thanks to workshop co-ordinator, and poet, Jackie Hagen for setting the exercise.


Arthur Chappell