Shakespeare 2012 part.., p.1
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       Shakespeare 2012 - Part II, p.1

           Cathal McCarron
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Shakespeare 2012 - Part II

  Cathal McCarron

  Dedicated to Lauri McCarron

  Copyright 2012 Cathal McCarron

  Chapter 12

  Leon knelt down beside the man sitting dazedly on the ground. The guy smelled worse than putrefied vomit, Leon thought. He looked at Leon with eyes full of confusion and pleading and terror, and said, “Forsooth, what dream is this? What nightmare? Hades?”

  “You what?” Leon asked, confused. Did this bloke just say ‘forsooth’? Who the hell says ‘forsooth’ these days? “Did you fall?”

  “Aye, fell. And at one fall swooped to this fancy.” The man inspected his hands as if he doubted his ownership of them. “Am flesh? Mine hands are these? Mine legs?”He touched his head, “Mine head? How firm this ground, although, how odd this place?”

  Leon tried to piece the man’s strange utterances together. What the hell was he banging on about? Probably just another homeless wino from outta town. He spoke with a rustic accent, sounding to Leon like he had just walked in from the fields of a farm in Norfolk. The fact the bloke could talk reassured Leon that he was essentially unharmed, physically at least; what he was saying, mind, was booze-sodden gibberish.

  “Sorry mate, you’ve lost me. You’re jabbering. Did you bang your head?” Leon remembered that people with head knocks could have concussion. Had this ol country bumpkin been mugged by a young city yobbo?

  “Into a world most alien. Fie, I’ll hang my bed and wake this nightmare.”

  “Just a bad midsummer night dream, eh? Been to see some Shakespeare have we then, eh?” Leon asked, adopting a patronising tone he reserved for alcoholics.

  Abruptly, the man’s head flicked towards Leon, and his eyes flashed savagely. “Thou knowst my name? Prithee sir, who art thee?” He clambered awkwardly to his feet and took a wobbly step back, his balance teetering on the brink of a fall. He hocked his throat and spat on the ground.

  Thou? Thee? Why was this bucolic pisshead speaking all ye olde English, Leon wondered. “Whoah! Easy there tiger! Your name is ‘Shakespeare’, eh?” Leon glanced at the guy’s clothes. They were misshapen, dirty brown rags: a tatty shirt, and a baggy, ill-fitting garment which loosely resembled a jacket. “Actually you look a little bit like ol Shakespeare. And your clothes are all in that ye olde style too. You know, you’d actually pass for Shakespeare’s double no problem, mate.”

  “Mine double? No. I single shall suffice. I am the only Shakespeare now. Henceforth the only Shakespeare ...” He looked pained. “My poor Hamnet ...”

  Hamnet? Leon thought. Shakespeare’s son was called Hamnet. Did this old dude really think he was Shakespeare? It must have been a serious head-knock or a strong bottle of booze. Leon decided to humour the guy. “Ah, so your name is Shakespeare is it?”

  “And yet I know not thine.”

  “And you had a son called Hamnet?”

  “My boy, my delight, my loss ...”

  The guy looked genuinely sorrowful, like he truly was remembering losing a son.

  “Let me guess, geezer, don’t suppose you come from Stratford upon Avon by any chance? Eh?”

  The man flashed another startled look at Leon. “Forsooth, thou knowst my home too? Thou has readst my life’s script? Sir who art thee?”

  “My name is Leon. And I’m guessing your first name is William?”

  “My Christian name too? Thou knowst me complete? But how? I recognise thee not.”

  Leon felt himself becoming bewildered. There was something unfathomably peculiar about this guy’s language, mannerisms, and appearance, but he seemed ... what was it, Leon thought ... he seemed ... sincere. Deluded, but genuinely deluded, like he believed what he was saying. He seemed like he was lost, but not lying. Don’t be ridiculous, Leon thought, and drew the fantastical thought process back into reality. But the guy was certainly a curiosity. “You’re serious aren’t you?” Leon probed further. “Your name is William Shakespeare? You either had unimaginative parents or this is the greatest ever midsummer night’s dream.”

  Leon remembered Hermione’s excitement at discovering there were hundreds of productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that evening. What was it she had said? “The collective dramatic consciousness. There’s power there.” No, Leon, don’t be daft. The ol fella was drunk and had tripped. And now you’re drunk and tripping.

  “So William Shakespeare,” Leon said sarcastically, “you’re everywhere tonight.”

  “Confusion reigns, no strangeness abdicates,” the man replied wistfully.

  Something in the rhythm of the man’s speech caught Leon’s attention. He clicked what it was. The ol tramp was speaking in iambic pentameter, the specific poetic metre Shakespeare had used in his plays and poems. Wild, fanciful notions began sprouting in Leon’s imagination, challenging his inherent cynicism. What if ...?

  “So mate, it must be really odd seeing your name on all those posters for A Midsummer Night’s Dream everywhere at the minute.”

  The man appeared to do a double-take when he heard the name of the play. “Hast seen my midsummer night dream? Tonight? It plays this eve? This solstice night? By whom?”

  Leon recognised the ownership presumed in the man’s emphasis of the words ‘my midsummer night dream’. What if ...? No, don’t be ridiculous. “I’m actually just going home from playing Lysander at my drama school. Did it rather well too, if I may say so myself. Just the one flub, but I don’t think anyone noticed.” But ... what if ...? Leon wished Hermione was present, she’d intuitively know the truth. “Who did you play?”

  The man seemed to search for a memory. “I played a payer who paid the players. Thou playst my Lysander?” He paused, took a breath, and then softly started reciting some of Lysander’s lines from the play. “’My lord,” the man began softly, weepily, “I shall reply amazedly.”

  Leon suddenly felt a mysterious tingle of the inexplicable surge of energy that had consumed him, almost overwhelmed him, during his performance of Lysander earlier. “Half asleep ...” the man continued reciting delicately, “... half waking.” Leon felt himself drift into a soft trance as the man spoke. He seemed to speak the lines as an incantation, as if they were as vital to him as his heartbeat. “But as yet, I swear,” he paused and looked into Leon’s eyes. “I cannot truly say how I came here.” Leon was mesmerised by the quiet power of the man’s speech. He returned the man’s stare, beguiled by an essential truth he sensed the man was revealing. As if he was hypnotised, Leon joined the man in reciting the lines, speaking with him in sync.

  “But as I think, for truly would I speak.”

  Gazing into each other’s eyes, a mutual sense of recognition passed between them.

  “And I do bethink me. So it is.“

  The two of them stopped reciting the lines. They looked at each other, frozen in a moment of revelation. Then Leon knew that the man was telling the truth.

  Chapter 13

  The truth hit Leon like a silent tsunami. “Oh ... my ... God. You’re William Shakespeare! What the – How did you get here? You’re dea-“ Leon broke the sentence, and tried to regain control of his speech. “Do you know where you are? Do you know what year it is?”

  Shakespeare looked at the church a few metres from where they stood. “This place is ... That church is St Helen’s. But this street is ... foreign. The year is 1612, today is the 21st June 1612.”

  “No, no,” Leon replied incredulously. “It’s 2012. It’s the twenty first of June two thousand and twelve. Jeez. Shakespeare!”

  “Sir thou jest,” Shakespeare rasped darkly. “Time’s arrow permits no breaks nor leaps.”

  “No, something weird, something magical has happened.” Leon fumbled for an explanation
. Hermione would know how to explain it. He appealed to the play. “Midsummer night’s magic, just like the magic of Oberon and Titania, the king and queen of the fairies in your midsummer night’s dream.”

  Shakespeare shook his head as the words hit him. “I am in a midsummer night’s dream?”

  “Somehow, magically, you have travelled to 2012. This is London, this is 2012. This is nuts!”

  “London? Four hundred years hence?” Shakespeare asked, menacingly. His eyes flared. “Sir, art thou a demon? Is this purgatory?”

  “Man, you really are Shakespeare. I swear, this is London. The year is 2012. Here, I’ll prove it.” Leon took his iPhone out of his pocket. The phone’s display flashed with the digital clock and date.

  Shakespeare leaned in to take a look, then leaned immediately back. “What numbers!” he raged. “What lights?” He noticed the orange streetlights over Leon’s shoulder. “What lights? WHAT?!” He swung around to face Leon, his face bearing a look of terror. “Sir! Leon! What fires are these?”

  Leon tried to speak reassuringly. “Lampposts, streetlights. Made with electr- ...” Leon realised that electricity may be a tricky concept for someone from the seventeenth century to understand. Probably better to take it from a more reassuring perspective. “London has changed since 1612, Mr Shakespeare. The world has changed a lot.”

  Shakespeare looked marginally less startled but there was fear in his voice. “This cannot be! No! My Lord! This cannot be!”

  Putting his hand onto Shakespeare’s arm Leon said, “Listen. It’s ok.” He drudged up some lines from plays hoping they may provide some comfort to a clearly bewildered Shakespeare. “This will be a brave new world, a strange new world to you. The isles are full of new noises. But don’t be afeart.” He gestured out towards Bishopsgate. “Come with me. Trust me. I can help you here. Let me be thy guide. Let me show you the future. Thou art a famous man.”

  The appeal to perpetual fame seemed to crystallise a measure of acceptance in Shakespeare. “Famous? Still? So far into the future? I had dreamed it but ...”

  Leon nodded his reassurance. Leading Shakespeare gently by the elbow, he led the way across the small courtyard in front of the church. He could feel Shakespeare’s arm shaking. When they reached the pavement at the edge of the courtyard, Shakespeare grabbed Leon’s arm with both hands and screamed. “Marry! What evil is this?! What star-scratching glass giant?!”

  Looking around, Leon found that Shakespeare was pointing at the Gherkin. “Oh that!” he replied dismissively. “That’s just an office block for an insurance company.” Shakespeare probably didn’t know what an office block or insurance was. When had insurance been invented? Leon had no idea. But he knew that he would have to think carefully about the words he chose. “People come to work here during the day. We call it the Gherkin.”

  Appearing and sounding more reassured, Shakespeare’s eyes roved in wonder up and down the Gherkin as Leon spoke. “These days we can build buildings to the heavens, higher than this building, almost a mile high. Modern architecture builds buildings you will not believe. Come.” Leon tapped Shakespeare’s arm to indicate he should follow. They walked ten metres towards the Gherkin, so the vista beyond them opened up. Leon tapped on Shakespeare’s arm again and directed his attention to the Heron Tower, a new tower block in the City, which was higher than the Gherkin.

  Shakespeare stared up at the tower, his eyes panning over its enormity. “Thou buildst to heaven. Like the Tower of Babel. Doth God allow this? He does not strike it down?”

  “Not yet. There are several buildings like this all over London.”

  Shakespeare nodded as if he comprehended. He shifted his gaze back to the Gherkin and began walking towards it. As Shakespeare stared at the building, transfixed, Leon stared at Will, incredulous. Could the collective consciousness cause time travel? Leon hadn’t believed in the collective consciousness when Hermione had explained it earlier. But how else could Shakespeare have been transported from 1612 on this night? Hermione might know something about it. But would she believe Leon when he told her about what had happened? Yes, Leon thought, of course she would, Hermione was fascinated by the inexplicable mysteries of legends. She’d listen without scoffing. But there was another point she may have a problem with.

  “So what should I call you then? Mr Shakespeare? Or Will? Yeah?” Leon asked.

  “Yeah? What is ‘yeah’? For yes? My name is Will, yeah.”

  “Yeah, yeah means yes. That’s another thing that’s changed – the English language. It will sound strange to you.”

  “Like Chaucer’s mirror,” Will responded. “Thine tongue to me as mine front-to-back twin. I recognise it but it is not mine.”

  “Somehow, William Shakespeare, I don’t think you will have any problem with learning modern English. Although we sometimes need guides to your English when we read it.”

  Will raised an eyebrow at Leon. “Thou readst my work yet?”

  “Your plays, Will, are still performed, regularly, all over the country, all over the world.”

  “My plays still play in 2012 ...,” Will said dreamily. “From lesser times to timeless ...”

  “Oh yes, they are always showing: Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet, Twelfth Night. Everyone loves your plays.”

  Leon noticed the shaking of Will’s arm had ceased. They walked slowly along Bishopsgate because Will’s head bobbed and twisted in perpetual motion as he tried to take in the strange new London in front of him. A car’s headlights swung into the road and drove towards them. Will stepped behind Leon.

  “Hey! It’s ok! It’s a car,” Leon said, reassuringly.

  “An ok car,” Will repeated.

  “No, the vehicle is called a car. It’s, um, like a horse’s cart, but without the horse.”

  “But where is the horse? How doth it move?”

  “By petrol,” another new word, Leon realised. “Petrol is a liquid that was discovered in the ground that you can burn as fuel.” I’m going to have to explain everything, Leon thought. “This is like your first day at school. And I shall be your teacher. Hey, where did you live? Do you want to stay with me tonight?”

  Will stopped and looked back down Bishopsgate. “In Stratford usually now. My London home is in Silver Street.” He pointed west. “Yet I fear it is in the ground now. Perhaps it is petrol for a car.”

  “Or a car park,” Leon mumbled.

  Will turned to Leon. “Yeah I want to stay with thee, with you.”

  Chapter 14

  Leon pressed the plastic key fob to the sensor to open the solid metal security door that controlled access to the block of flats which he and Hermione lived in. The door beeped and Leon pulled the door towards him, and gestured for Will to enter. On the opposite wall Leon pressed the button to call the lift. When the lift doors slid apart, Leon entered. Will stood in the corridor peering into the lift, then pressed his hands to space at his right where the doors had slid into. Leon reached out and pulled Will into the lift just before the doors closed. Everything must be so strange to him, thought Leon. Imagine suddenly leaping four hundred years into future! What sort of domestic technology would people take for granted in 2412, just as Leon took security doors and lifts for granted in 2012?

  They exited the lift at the fourth floor. Leon led Will along the external, concrete passage to his front door. He had become acutely conscious of the small everyday actions he routinely took. Opening his front door with a small metallic key was now curiously intriguing. When did keys get invented? Inside his flat, Leon switched on the hall light. Hermione mustn’t be back yet. Will entered the hall behind Leon and pressed the switch to turn the light off.

  “Leon!” Will exclaimed.

  “Better leave it on,” Leon said calmly, reaching out to turn the light on again. “We use these lights in our homes to see at night.” He turned on the ceiling light in the lounge.

  “How fantastical,” Will murmured reverentially, turning the hall light on and off repeatedly.
“You make light without fire.”

  “Electric light,” Leon replied from the lounge. “Electricity, the stuff that powers all the lights you can see, controls our lives.”

  Leon switched on the television which was hung up in the centre of the wall opposite the sofa, and then flicked open the lid of his laptop, actions he routinely performed when he arrived home. An old movie was showing on BBC1. Will traced a path around the coffee table in the lounge and gingerly pressed his right hand to the TV screen.

  “People? How?”

  “They’re not really here in that box. They’re moving pictures. Of people from somewhere else. More magic of the modern world,” Leon explained. “We can see pictures from anywhere in the world immediately. This is called a TV, short for te-le-vision.”

  “Television, TV. Vision, tele,” repeated Will.

  “And this is called a com-pu-ter,” Leon pointed to his laptop. “It is a ... it’s like an automatic calculating machine. We use it for very many purposes, like sharing messages and information.”

  Will leaned down to check out the photo of Hermione and Leon that Leon used as the background image on the desktop of his laptop. “It’s you! In the box! Com-pu-ter. I can learn this magic?”

  “Of course, and you will learn it’s not really magic, just new technology, like when the first people discovered fire, or invented the wheel, or writing, or the quill. We have many new inventions.”

  “I am a fish in a forest,” said Will despondently. He walked across to the bookcase in the corner of the lounge and scanned the shelves. “All these new folios. How small they are.” He retrieved a book called 2012 – Mysteries and Legends and flicked through it reverently. “And what strange print. I want to read of your new world.” He settled on a random page in the book. “May-ah. What is May-ah?”

  “Oh that,” Leon said. “That’s my girlfriend Hermione’s book. It’s pronounced ‘Maya’. The Mayans lived in Mexico, that’s a new country across the Atlantic Ocean. The Mayans made prophecies a thousand years ago about the future. One interpretation of their prophecies claims that the world was going to end on 21st December 2012. Another is that there would be a leap in human consciousness in 2012. Which, could be linked to tonight ... I wonder ...”

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