Google

                                                BABEL.

BY ARTHUR CHAPPELL

MAD CHIP DISEASE CRISIS DEEPENS.

We now have alarming, but official confirmation that the computer/brain interface virus, Cerebral Babberage Syndrome, (CBS), popularly known as Mad (Silicone) Chip Disease, is spreading quickly through the global human population.

Professor Bernard Jonkinson, close now too his retirement age, but as shrewd, and sharp minded as ever, of the Oxford University Artificial Intelligence Studies Unit, and probably the man most likely to resolve this crisis, believes that the CBS virus has now mutated in such a way that it is capable of infecting, affecting, and disabling non-computer users. This means that you can now catch a computer virus without ever having touched a computer keyboard in your life.

The following is the verbatim text of Professor Jonkinsonís press statement, released last night.

"Early experiments to pour information stored on the Information Superhighway straight into the human mind through simple front lobe portal connection, (inspired by SF novels like William Gibsonís Neuromancer, written last century), were astonishingly successful. I had a modest role to play in pioneering the research involved. I was also among the first guinea pigs to have The Net surf through me for a change. It was a truly exhilarating experience, that left me with a powerful static electricity charge in my body, which prevented me from shaking hands with many of my friends and well-wishers until at least until an hour after I had unplugged myself.

However, the vast majority of computer consumers proved surprisingly reluctant and squeamish about having the basic, rudimentary and quite safe trepanatory brain surgery required to put them closer than ever to their home computers. The market only really took off among extreme political and religious groups, cults, sects, and animal rights activists, and in certain quarters of the academic fraternity.

When it proved, as I warned from early personal experience, that computer viruses are capable of affecting human minds interfacing with any contaminated terminal, many people began to sit up and start paying attention. At Oxford, we immediately terminated all further research and strictly ruled out further human interfacing with computers until further notice. Several students and one leading academic, Professor Samual Milne, from my own team were sacked for attempting to continue the work despite the ban, as you well know. Most of those foolhardy hardy enough to ever have jacked their minds into a computer pulled the leads out of their heads for the last time. A few who didnít were lynched by local angry mobs. Regrettably, a few good people died in such skirmishes.

It seemed for a time, that the crisis, as well as the whole experiment, was over and, truly behind us. Sadly, it was not to be.

How come the virus can now spread without a computer being involved? I know you gentlemen of the press will ask that one, so here is your answer in anticipation. In order to interact with human minds, computer information has to stop being electrical, digital, and technological, and start becoming organic, biological, neuro-stimuli activity in the human brain instead. Once translated into the signals of human language and symbolic thought, instead of computer binary coding, a computer virus can act just like any other human mental aberration. All human minds have some form of aberration. Without being clinically insane,. we all have, in our heads, at this very moment, thoughts which are pessimistic, depressive, neurotic, irrational, paranoid, and schizophrenic. A healthy mind has its rational, logical, ordered thoughts in dominant roles, while our aberrations are kept in the background. Madness is what we get when the background spreads and migrates forward in our heads, like a cancer of ideas. The trouble is that a computer virus which has been humanised (integrated into a human brain) is likely to play havoc with a human beingís physical well being, as well as his mental outlook on life. If a human being carrying a neuro-biological computer virus catches influenza, or a simple nose-cold, or German Measles, for instance, that will affect the computer information in his head, and may even affect, and stimulate (strengthen) the viruses he is affected by. Worse, the virus may have adapted and evolved to be able to interact with such transmittable infections and illnesses, not to mention those revolting and sometimes deadly diseases that humans pass on through sexual intercourse. This was a dangerous factor which I, and my colleagues have to admit we never foresaw or predicted. It means that if you catch a cold from someone infected with CBS, you may also catch Mad Chip Disease from him, or her as well. You do not need to have even seen a computer, laptop, or games console, let alone have jacked your mind into one. In effect, I must apologise for the part I have played in starting something of an epidemic. We may now all be in peril. The effects of CBS can spread very quickly. There have been regrettable ..... Incidents, yes, that word must suffice; Incidents. Most regrettable. My apologies to the whole World out there. "

The professorís speech was interrupted several times by his aggravated coughing fits. He had to keep taking sips of water. He has been a heavy smoker all his life. This story continues with pictures on page three, column two.

******

George Forester was intrigued. He turned quickly to page three, but found only a mixture of sports news and reports of the inexplicable Liberal Party gains in the three by-elections that had taken part the previous night. Several voters had complained afterwards that when it came to the crunch at the ballot stations, they had unwittingly put their crosses in the incorrect boxes, as they fully supported the Labour and Conservative Coalition Party, as predicted in every opinion poll taken. "Thatís bloody funny," he said aloud to himself, rifling through the pages of the newspaper to find the rest of the CBS report.

"Whatís wrong?" asked The Headmaster, Mr. Roncoy, condescendingly, looking over the glasses he wore permanently in danger of falling off the edge of his nose. He asked his question and then looked at his watch. He groaned. Five minutes left. Where had his morning break vanished to?

Forester shrugged his shoulders, and lit another cigarette. His action was totally in violation of the notice pinned up by Roncoy that declared the Teacherís Common Room a No-Smoking zone. Roncoy had put the notice up when heíd decided to quit smoking, but as he had started again himself a few days later, the notice was now ignored by all. "It says here that the front page story continues on page three, but it isnít there."

The Headmaster laughed pompously. "Probably just a typo. Itíll be on another page. Youíll find it eventually, Forest. Iíve every confidence in you."

"The nameís Forester, Sir, not Forest," Forester winced. He was sounding aggressive rather than politely assertive.

"Oh yes, Forester it is then, not to be abbreviated to Forest, where we canít see the wood for the trees. Ha!" Roncoy burst out laughing as though he had said something deeply humorous and profound rather than having just spouted forth a torrent of meaningless gibberish. Forester smiled at him as politely as he could feign, to say how much he appreciated such wise counsel.

"No, Sir, Iíve looked," Forester said. "It doesnít appear to be there at all, and look at this; the sports news is traditionally at the back of the paper, not in the first few pages. The cartoons and TV-Listings arenít usually on page two, are they? Theyíve even cocked up the crossword puzzle. Seventeen across, ĎType of cat with no tailí, seven letters."

"Seven letters?" The Headmaster said, sitting up and extinguishing his cigarette. "Surely the answer is Manx. Thatís only four letters."

Thatís what I thought too, sir, and look at the actual crossword grid, rather than the clues." He passed the newspaper over to the Headmaster, who took off his glasses and peered intensely at the grid.

"There is no seventeen across. Thereís a seventeen down, and thatís a nine letter word, but thereís no clue given for one there." The Headmaster smiled sarcastically. "What paper is this, The National Enquirer?" He glanced to the front for the title. "Good grief. Itís The Independent." His jaw dropped, and he sat in mortified statue silence for a moment.

"No, Sir," Forester corrected him. "Itís The Guardian."

"No, it isnít, you fool. ... " The Headmaster looked at the coverís title caption again and swore for the first time anyone could ever recall. "Christ on a bike, so it is. I could have sworn it was the Guardian. I mean The ...." He made a titanic effort to unfuddle his memory and succeeded. "I thought it was the Independent."

Forester shook his head. "Somethingís wrong, isnít it? And not just with the newspaper?" For once he had seen the supercilious perfectionist get ruffled, bothered and uncertain of himself. The sight delighted him, but it also made him nervous. It shouldn't have been happening.

Roncoy looked at his watch, and realised he was late getting away to his meeting with the school governing board. "I expect theyíll sort it all out soon," he mumbled, and staggered out of the smoky rest room. Forester was alone, and feeling lonely by himself, though the smoke in the air gave the impression of half a dozen teachers having been in there recently; not just two. That made him think. There should have been three of our other teachers in there at this time. There usually were. Oldham High School was a place of routine timetabled drudgery. Roncoy ran it with Mussolini like affection for time management. Roncoy was no Fascist though. He was a well meaning, dedicated workaholic, with an obsession for nit picking trivial precision. Pupils dreaded him taking classes. He marked them down for the slightest error. He seemed deluded that he was teaching University Postgraduates instead of ten year old working class children. Heíd once told a young girl off for using ĎDangling Participlesí in her ĎWhat I got for Christmasí essay. Even Forester, who had taught English Literature before moving to history, didnít know what Dangling Participles were. "Bloody perfectionist," he growled, and gave Roncoy a two finger salute in his absence. Forester sank back in the fading green mock-leather arm chair, and felt like going to sleep. He had some homework essays to mark, but right now, he just couldnít be bothered starting.

A loud impatient knock on the door made Forester jump half out of his skin. He thought Roncoy had seen his insulting gesture somehow. The knock continued as Forester climbed down from his state of panic. He grabbed his pen and the top essay on the stack he had in his open shoulder satchel and made it look as though he was busy checking through it. "Come in. The doorís not locked."

Mrs. Sergeant, Maths Teacher, obesely overweight and known to staff and pupils alike as Barrage Balloon behind her back, walked in crying tears worthy of a sudden death in the family. She had always been somewhat overemotional, but never this bad. Forester wondered why she had knocked at all. The kids were expected to knock if they had to invade the sanctuary, (and only in emergencies), but staff could just walk in or out unannounced. "Whatís up, Miranda?" Forester asked, politely.

"I canít add up!" she sobbed, bitterly, grabbing for the tissues Forester kindly pointed to on the low-lying coffee table he had only just taken his feet off. "Iíve forgotten how to do it."

Forester felt pole axed. "Youíre joking, surely?"

She wailed and shook her head wildly. "No, Iím not. Iím finished. Ruined." She slumped down in one of the chairs opposite Forester. It creaked as though it might collapse under her, as one had done only a week before.

"Whatís happened?" Forester asked, politely, with genuine sympathy, while feeling uncomfortable in the Headmasterís role of staff agony aunt.

"I was taking Class 3C. Billy Smith handed me his sums to mark. He always finishes first. You know who I mean, donít you?"

Forester nodded. "The smart arse. The only kid in The Universe who's gone bald and has to wear a toupee at nine?"

The Barrage Balloon smiled through her tears, which had now calmed down to sniffles. "Yes. Him. Iíd set the class some basic long addition sums. She grabbed a pen and paper and jotted one down. Like this, "she said, handing the pad to Forester.

Forester read it, and told her that he understood.

3456 plus 7596 plus 9871 plus 3944 equals.

"Billy came up with the answer 24,867."

"Thatís right.", Forester asserted. "I just worked it out myself."

"You might have done, but I couldnít," Sergeant sobbed, in danger of returning to total hysteria. I got it wrong. I marked it wrong. Billy brought it back up and corrected me. The little bastard proved me wrong in front of the whole class. Half his other sums were incorrectly marked wrong as well."

Forester was amazed. "Iíve seen you work out harder stuff than this faster than most of us could do it on a calculator. You even worked out Swanky Bordinís bets for him, the hard ones, like the Yankee Accumulators."

"Not any more. Iíve lost it. I canít tell if Iím right or wrong any more. Itís as though Iím looking at completely different numbers than Iíve been given. I think itís some sort of dyslexia, or possibly...." she paused as though hesitant to finally say the words. Forester guessed what was coming but avoided uttering it out loud for her sake. She finally said it herself. "I think Iíve got Mad Chip Disease!" The floodgates reopened, and she buried her head in her hands as she wailed, ignoring all Foresterís sheepish words of comfort and denial of her condition. "Donít jump to conclusions," he suggested helpfully, but she was oblivious to him, wallowing in her self-pity and misery for all she was worth.

Forester considered slipping away to get help, possibly from the Headmaster, who would not really appreciate being dragged out of a meeting at first, but who would appreciate it, once he saw the genuine distress the Barrage Balloon was suffering.

From outside the school, through the thin, prefabricated walls, some of the children could be heard loudly playing in the yard. Forester wondered who had authorised an early, unscheduled break for them. They were all supposed to be in class now, surely.

The door burst open, and nearly came off its hinges with the force. Prentiss, Geography tutor, was there with a livid look on his face. Normally he was as calm and placid as a millpond. They called him Nirvana. Now he looked furious. "George" he snarled, furiously. "What the hell are you doing in here. Youíre supposed to be taking 4B through volcanoes and mountains. Theyíre all in there now waiting. Thereís a student teacher holding them at bay, but some of the buggers are practically going feral on her. Get your arse down there now."

Forester was shocked. He blustered and fumbled for words, which eventually surfaced and spilled out pathetically. "This is a free period for me."

"No it isnít!" Prentiss snapped, as though openly accusing him of lying and truancy. Forester knew that he must be genuinely mistaken. He was relieved to have at least one hold over Prentiss though. "I teach history by the way. It's you who covers volcanoes and earthquakes. Geography's your department."

Prentiss reeled as though he had been physically punched, but said nothing.

Forester walked out past him to go to his class. "Look after her will you. Sheís had a bit of a problem."

The rabid fury dissolved from Prentissís eyes, and he turned into The School Buddha again as he walked over and placed his arm gently around Sergeant's shoulder. "Whatís up love?"

"I canít do sums any more!" She cried, as though stating her case for the first time.

Forester giggled and slipped out to go to his class. For a few moments he couldnít remember where they were. At one stage he walked into the changing rooms for the gymnasium. As he came out, the bearded hippie PE teacher, Ambleron, walked past, fully clothed, and soaking wet, having, he explained, just fallen into the school swimming pool and unable to remember how it occurred.

Forester found his class, and the noise that had preceded his arrival quickly stopped. He faced a room full of thirty children looking attentively at their books. The worried looking young, pretty relief teacher bowed politely and slipped away. Forester knew that the kids had made her life hell even seconds before he had gone in.

"Books out," he ordered, commandingly. "King Charles was doomed by that late stage of the Civil War. Cromwellís superior forces ..... " He noticed a boy he didnít recognise. "Are you supposed to be in my class just now, son?" he asked, almost in a whisper. He didnít want the lad to be too embarrassed in front of the other children.

The boy looked up nervously, as though he had just been interrupted in the middle of sleepwalking. "Iím not sure, Sir. Are you Mr. Reardon?"

Forester knew there was no Mr. Reardon teaching in the whole school. He also noticed the boyís blazer for the first time, which was draped over the back of the chair the youth was sitting on. Forester picked up the blazer and inspected it closely. "This is for Werneth Wakes Comprehensive. Youíre in the wrong school, let alone the wrong class."

The boyís eyes filled with fear and incomprehension. "But I know the way to school. Iíve been coming here for three years; I mean coming to Werneth Wakes. What am I doing here?"

Forester found his agony aunt tone of sympathy returning. "I donít know, but donít let it worry you. Thereís a lot of this kind of thing going on at the moment. Stay here with us till the end of the lesson, and Iíll arrange to have you escorted there."

The lesson passed by quickly. There were only about fifteen minutes of teaching time left in it anyway. As it ended, the children started getting their timetables out to see where they were due to go next. Foresterís sense of doom intensified. This far into the term the children knew their timetables by heart. They shouldnít have had to look at the written versions.

Forester found out that the Werneth pupil was called Matthew Abbot. He quickly escorted him to the Headmasterís office, where he knocked on the door, nervously expecting angry rebukes for the disturbance he was causing to the meeting. The Headmaster called him in quickly, and politely, with tired exasperation in his voice. Forester told Matthew Abbott it was all right for him to come in, and reassured him that he wasnít in any kind of trouble, though the boy looked as though he had difficulty believing this was the case. Iíve got a little lost soldier here," Mister Roncoy," Forester said, patting Matthew Abbot on the shoulder. "Heís one of Wernethís lads. Could we possibly have someone escort him to the right school? Itís a bit late for him to go without a lift now Iíd take him home, but his parents are both out at work."

Roncoy nodded consent, as though incapable of being surprised any more. "Take him yourself. Youíd best had, Iím afraid. Half the staff are running round panicking. Ambleron nearly drowned himself. Heís gone off to get some dry clothes. Sergeant's hysterical. She says sheís forgot how to teach. I think sheís having a breakdown. Prentiss has offered to take her home. The worldís gone mad. Stark staring mad, I tell you. To cap it all, Iíve run out of bloody cigarettes now."

Forester threw one of his own cigarettes to the Headmaster who caught it and quickly lit it, as though it was a flare gun on a rapidly sinking ship.

Forester was puzzled. "What happened to your meeting?"

Roncoy shrugged his shoulders dejectedly, as though heíd ceased caring. "The buggers never came. Iíve been sat here on my own, apart from the various madmen and hysterics whoíve been piling in here all day."

A thought occurred to Forester. "Are you sure you werenít supposed to go to them, at their offices?"

Roncoyís eyelids drooped in display of his slow dawning realisation and utter defeat. "Christ. Thatís right. I was. Iíve let them down."

"I expect they probably havenít noticed," Forester suggested helpfully. "Thing have probably not gone right for them either. I think this is happening everywhere right now."

"I hope so," Roncoy said laughing. "Iíd hate to be the only one round here going looney tunes." He shut himself up and apologised when the awfulness of his ominous comment struck him as decidedly unfunny.

Forester escorted the lost boy out of the school and to the car park. The History teacher started to open the door of a yellow Citroen, and signalled to the boy to go round to the passenger side, which he did. For some reason, Forester found that his key wasnít turning the car door locking mechanism.

Suddenly, the burglar alarm went off. Within seconds, the Janitor, Burtonwood, was out of his boiler rooms, demanding to know what Forester was playing at, and waving his fists angrily. "Thatís your bleediní car over there," he shouted, abusively. He pointed to a blue Ford Estate, so radically different in shape to the Citroen that the two could never be rationally mistaken for one another. Not Ďrationallyí, thought Forester, shaking nervously, as he got in, and opened the door for his frightened little passenger.

Seat belts secure, they set off quickly. Forester wisely pulled out his A-Z street guide from under the dashboard and drove while following itís navigational instructions. He thought he knew the route to Werneth well, but he wasnít taking any chances now. he followed the route given in the book to the letter, despite the boy beside him crying and fretting that they were going the wrong way.

The streets were busy, as though rush hour had arrived early. Police cars and sirens blazed everywhere. many people wondered round the streets looking lost. Fights were breaking out everywhere. One man hit another for walking off with his dog instead of his own. A woman was screaming hysterically that her baby had vanished from its pram. A man outside a shop was shouting something about being short changed and being sold the wrong goods as well. Forester wound the window up despite the June warmth, to spare the fretting child from hearing more sounds of the chaos around them.

They came to level crossing where the railway tracks crossed the road. The barrier was raised up, and the lights were on green indicating that it was safe to go through, so Forester drove across. His car had barely cleared the track when a goods train thundered through. The barrier and the lights remained unchanged. The boy burst out crying, realising how close they had been to death. Forester looked up at the signal box where the barrier operator should have been. It was clearly deserted. Forester handed the boy a paper handkerchief with which to dry his tears. The boy just blew his nose on it and carried on crying. Forester handed him another one. This time he seemed to get the message.

They got to Werneth Wakes Comprehensive easily enough by sticking to the route given in the book. Forester parked up as close to the monolithic single storey concrete rectangular block school house as possible, placed a chalk arrow on the bonnet of his car, and led the boy inside.

"Abbot, where have you been?" shouted a gruff, impatient woman, loudly. Forester looked round to see her looking at her watch, which she had pinned to the breast of her brilliantly white dress. Forester knew that if she taught at his school the staff would call her Miss Jean Brodie. She oozed discipline and an absence of all traces of humour. He dreaded the fate of any children she taught, and immediately felt like getting away from her.

She ignored Foresterís efforts to explain the boy's late arrival, and listened only to the boyís own tearful explanation. Matt Abbott looked imploringly to Forester for help, but while the battle-axe teacher was ignoring the stranger in her midst, Forester could only watch the torment in detachment. It was as though the event was unfolding on television rather than in front of him, live. He had no power to intervene or influence events.

The boy had called her Miss Heart several times. Forester understood why she had never married, despite a certain grace about her, despite her being in her late fifties. The name Heart seemed totally inappropriate though, for a woman totally devoid of one.

She didnít ask the boy what lesson he was expected to be in. She just snatched his timetable out of his blazer pocket, looked at it and ordered him to go to English class in Room Twelve. She gave him his timetable back, by shoving it into his trembling hand, and then barged off, past Forester, making no effort to thank him for his time or trouble or even acknowledge his existence.

"Thatís all right love. No trouble at all. Think nothing of it," he mumbled, sarcastically. He noticed that Matthew was trying not to laugh, for fearing of angering him. He decided that the kid needed a break. "Sheís a right bitch, isn't she? How the hell do you put up with her? " he said. The boy laughed, and knew heíd found a friend. It turned out that the Bitch was Deputy Head of the school.

Forester walked with him to the classroom marked twelve. This school was full of signposts, and the rooms were all plainly numbered, as though people got lost here all the time anyway, even without an information and memory eating disease affecting everyone. Forester half wondered if all the teachers in Werneth were just as bad as The Bitch, but the history teacher in Room Twelve proved to be the most amiable, welcoming chap Forester had ever met. He was reading poetry out; Keats, by the sound of it, to some six children. They looked attentive, and fully in enjoyment of the lesson. The teacher was clearly a lover of his job and able to convey enthusiasm to his classes. Today though, there were some twenty empty chairs behind twenty empty desks. He stopped reading as Forester ushered Matthew into the room. The boy rushed to his desk with a look of relief on his face. He really wanted to be here. Forester could tell.

The legend on the door was Mr. Reardon. English Language & Literature. Forester wished he had his name on a plaque on a classroom door. He had to share rooms with the rest of the staff.

Reardon looked up and saw the boy, and smiled. He stopped reading and greeted him. "Glad you could make it," he said, without a hint of accusation. "Most of the others aren't here yet either, so donít worry. I had a few problems getting here too. I got the wrong bus. Weird, eh? After nineteen years..."

Forester found his easy going appreciation of the funny side of the chaos startling and appealing. The man turned the whole thing into a delightful adventure for himself, and the children. To him,. the whole situation was funny. It stopped the children from panicking. He spotted Forester and looked momentarily alarmed by the presense of a stranger. Forester explained who he was and how Abbott had turned up at his school. Reardon seemed to accept that as easily as he took everything else for granted. Reardon invited the children to read their homework stories out now, and he didnít seem to mind that Forester hadnít left the room again, having done his duty now. Forester was happy to stick around. It was a good way to skive out of the afternoon teaching he would have had to do. He could always say he got lost again. He wasnít sure about driving back through Oldham again anyway while the town looked like a violent riot waiting to happen.

A girl read her story out, a simple romantic dream straight out of her Mummy's mills and Boon stories that suddenly ended in a viscous werewolf attack sheíd seen in a horror story video some time or other. Reardon criticised her for her fixation on gore, but never made her feel small or stupid about it. Forester felt daunted to be in the presense of the best teacher heíd ever seen.

Matthew Abbot was invited to read his story. It started off innocently, and naively enough about a pet rabbit called Thumper, named, like so many rabbits, after the one in Disneyís film, Bambi, but it quickly mutated into a strong academic sounding dessertational thesis on the nature of being, consciousness, and existential self-identity. "realising that the world around you is a monstrous and frightening, bewildering place, is not as bad as discovering with revelation that you yourself are monstrous, frightening and bewildering to others. Discovering that you are insane is much worse than finding out that everyone else is behaving irrationally. It comes as a shock to discover that when you die, the rest of the world will continue without you being there to witness it. The worst thing anyone can do is to show you a mirror that shows you up as everyone else sees you, rather than the way you wish to be seen. To discover your insignificance, just notice that your voice is just one of many babbling on around you. Who killed President Kennedy? Oswald? the man in the grassy knoll? The CIA? The Mafia? The FBI? The Russians? There are thousands of books on the subject, each with a different theory. It is conceivable that one of those theories is right. One of those researchers hit the nail right on the head. But, and itís a big but. Because of all the other theories, even when we weed out the incredibly naive and implausible ones, there will always be too much doubt, and too many unanswered questions. The truth, and the real meaning is lost in the babel of opinion, voices, theorising and conflicting facts of the case. We have too many views, opinions, beliefs, ideas, thoughts, visions, inspirations, words, notions, hunches, and theories. This essay wonít prove anything, any more than the rest of the words written in the world. Iím just a kid talking about feeding his rabbit, and hoping for an A-Grade. Why should my view count any more than that of the girl who prattled on about werewolves? Who cares. Life goes on. "

Forester screamed. "No! Those are my ideas. That was what I wrote in my University final exam. I remember it well. They gave me only a B Plus. Where did you get it from? Where did you steal my ideas?" Forester jumped forward to grab the boy. Reardon got between him and the frightened child. "I think itís time you were going now, Sir, donít you?"

Reardon was speaking with the voice of Miss Heart, and in fact it now was Miss Heart taking the class. Forester backed away, gasping for breath, feeling his old asthma coming back. He hadnít had an attack for years. He turned quickly, and fled from the classroom, and ran through the labyrinth corridors until he finally found his way outside. He leaned against a wall and took deep breaths, and then decided to go back to the car. Where was it now? He remembered parking as close to the school building as he could, and marking the car with chalk. For the life of him now, he couldnít stop thinking he owned a red Volkswagen. He suspected that he was probably suffering delusions again, but he couldnít help it. He remembered the chalk arrow he had made on the bonnet, and smiled, but his smile faded when he noticed the chalk arrows on every car parked at the school, irrespective of make and colour. There was even one on a blue three wheeler invalid car, and the motorised lawn mower being driven by the school caretaker.

Forester walked round, crying, looking in through car windows, hoping to see something inside that he could definitely identify as his own. The school bell rang as he searched. Pupils came running out, and wandered round looking bewildered and lost Most eventually found their way out through the gates. A few found their parents outside waiting to take them home. One boy, who might have been little Matthew (Forester couldnít tell due to his distance from him, and for other reasons), ran to a man, and tried to hug him. The big, burly man shooed him away, and told him he was not his father. Matthew staggered off on his own.

The teachers came out now, and stood around, looking at the cars, as puzzled and frightened as Forester felt. Reardon came out, looking his old, pleasant self again. He smiled to Forester, and shouted to him. "Use your car keys. Try the locks. Your car is the one that the key opens."

Forester thanked him, and got to his car within minutes on the basis of the advise. He waited a while until a train had just passed the unmanned barrier, and then drove quickly across. He had to make a turning now, to head for home, and his evening meal. He was famished. He wasnít sure which way to go though. He took out the A to Z street guide and looked up his route. Around him, fights were breaking out. The hysteria was intensifying rapidly. A toffee-shop keeper walked out of his shop and wen away without locking anything away. Within minutes, the local children were in there, stealing everything they could carry.

Forester turned on the car radio, to take his mind of the pandemonium all around him. At first he got only static, and this seemed to come from most stations. He knew the relatively new radio was working, and quickly surmised that various technicians, and electricity suppliers were probably not doing their maintainence work properly, if at all. Most probably hadnít even got to work. The stations were all off the air for now. No, not all of them. Forester had found one, crackling with static, but just about audible. It was a talk show, or a news item. They were discussing the crisis. Forester stopped the car so the engine wouldn't drown out the barely audible broadcast.

"Professor Jonkinson. How serious is the crisis now?"

"Extremely serious, Iím afraid. Far worse than we initially predicted. The confusion is setting in extremely quickly. Very few people have been left unaffected in the developed world. There have been traffic accidents, and many acts of violence ... I would advise everyone to make only the most essential journeys. Stay in your homes until we can do something about all this."

"Thatís good advise, Professor. Ah, excuse me. Iíve just been handed a fresh report. A Boeing 747 has crashed, killing everyone on board. This happened at the famous Barton airfield, a small military runway, clearly unsuited to major commercial jets. The plane was supposed to be heading for Glasgow airport. This is Michael Gowrie, reporting for the BBC. "

Forester looked up to the sky. There didnít even seem to be any pigeons, Magpies, or sparrows in the air, let alone the telltale vapour trails left by commercial aircraft. He remembered his last flight, from Paris, after his fifth honeymoon Summer holiday. He treated every holiday with his wife as a new honeymoon. She seemed to appreciate that. How long ago was it now? Barely a month. Forester felt as though he needed another holiday already. The thought of just getting on a plane and going somewhere fresh, and starting again with a clean slate, a complete Tabla Rasa, appealed to him, but for now he was stuck here, in Manchester, windswept and damp looking city of the year, going out of his mind, just like everybody else. Even in Paris there was no escape. He knew the French would be drowning in angst and confusion just as he was now. See Babel Part Two

Arthur Chappell

LINK TO THIS PAGE http://arthurchappell.me.uk/story-babel.htm

LINKS TO MY OTHER PAGES.

LINKS TO OTHER PEOPLES PAGES    E-mail arthur@chappell7300.freeserve.co.uk

UPDATES  MYSPACE -  http://www.myspace.com/arthurchappell

FACEBOOK - http://profile.to/arthurchappell/ 

FACEBOOK BLOG http://apps.facebook.com/blognetworks/blogpage.php?blogid=85623 

MY BOOKS - http://stores.lulu.com/store.php?fAcctID=952521

MY TWITTER PAGE - http://twitter.com/arthurchappell