BLACKPOOL AND BEYOND
Audiences had remained poor for him despite the good Summer Holiday season reported by most traders in the region. George Hobbeson put his puppets into a cloth sack, and then put the sack into a little wooden box. The box now went into the boot of his car. George went back to the booth itself and started to dismantle it.
The light was fading now, and the few spectators had long since gone. Distant screams and squeals of fear and delight came from the roller coasters on the Golden Mile. Drunks laughed and argued in the streets, as the twenty-four hour stag and hen party that was Blackpool rolled through the streets. Bottles broke. Police sirens roared in the distance. It would get worse when the pubs closed later on. Everyone sounded happy. George just felt miserable. He suspected this would be his last season, the end of an era. A show carried through four generations of his family, handed down from Father to son was dying off. His audience this evening had interrupted him with mobile ring tones and portable computer games that made insufferable headache inducing blipping noises.
Then there was a fresh sound, one George had not heard before. It was a scraping, slithering scratching sound. Someone was lurking in the shadows. George suddenly noticed how many dark alleys fed onto and off the area he had parked up to set up his booth. There could be dozens of muggers anywhere around him. George speeded up his dismantling of the plywood and nylon booth. He almost called out in all honesty that he had no money worth taking, as the collection from the parents had been so spartan.
The booth stowed, and the boot locked, George moved to get into the driver's side of his car quickly, but he wasn't quick enough. Someone hit him from behind, straight onto the base of his skull. George collapsed instantly to the floor.
He came too in darkness. The back of his head hurt. He was in an upright coffin-like box of some kind. He was slumped to the floor, but it was too small to allow him to lie down properly. He thumped the sides of the box hoping to summon attention and realised that they were made of canvas, or nylon.
His eyes adjusted to the gloom now and he realized what the back of his mind had already suspected. He was in his own booth again. It had been reassembled around him.
He felt the floor below the booth, through a tear in the canvas. It felt metallic and cold, but vibrated and gave off a gentle static charge into his fingers. The air felt cool, but not cold. He was indoors somewhere. He wondered what had become of his car. He felt his head. There was a painful lump there, but there seemed to be no blood spilling from it.
He screamed for help. He got no reply.
Cautiously, he raised himself up and glanced out of the booth's performance area. What he saw made him scream. He was looking across a wide white sheet-metal room, the size of a cathedral. At one end there was a window, and through it, he saw planets and stars. One planet, he recognized from old photographs, was undoubtedly Saturn. The rings made that obvious. The planet was rapidly shrinking away in the distance.
Suddenly there was further reason to scream. A large ugly head appeared over the edge of the both and stared at him. It was his puppet Punch. It was in the hands of its giant brother or cousin, who slowly pulled the wooden toy to pieces. The giant had the same crescent faced, varnished looking head and manic grin. It even wore a similar hat and harlequin cloak. Behind it, a giant effigy like Judy figure stood silently, watching her husband or friend with some approval. The new Punch slammed down on the edge of the booth with a large truncheon. "You've been taking the piss," He said in a squeaky voice.
Forester winced. The club had narrowly missed his fingers. "It's a coincidence. I had no idea anyone really looked like this. I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
The puppets conferred in what sounded like giggles. "Should we, boys and girls? Asked Judy.
An audience of similar puppets, and even a crocodile like entity emerged from the shadows, shouting, "yes, yes, do."
"Oh no we won't," shouted Punch,
“Oh yes you will”, demanded Judy and the unseen squeaky voiced audience agreed with her.
"Alright, you win," Punch said, and Hobbeson demanded to know what they had in mind.
The puppets moved away, and George had his room to himself for a moment. With a metallic clang a steel door slammed down before him. Behind him, a second or two later, a second door burst open.
Hobbeson had read little science fiction in his time, but he knew the image of an airlock from somewhere. As the booth and its doomed occupant was swept up and out towards the cold vacuum, voices could be heard chorusing, "That's the way to do it."
© Copyright. Arthur Chappell
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