The gang of four, p.1
The Gang of Four, p.1Richard Lawther
The Gang of Four
Published by Richard Lawther
© Copyright 2017 Richard Lawther
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This book is a work of fiction, and except in the case of historical fact, any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
Cover font: Sell your Soul: Chris Hansen.
Thanks to Jay S.
Wednesday (The Malevolence)
Thursday (Third Eye)
Friday (The Human System)
‘Come on, Margaret! Remember, no pain, no gain!’
The septuagenarian grimaced at Russell and began pumping her arms back and forth like the pistons of a steam locomotive.
Russell Tebb, of Russell Tebb Aerobics, nodded his approval and moved on to appraise the other members of his class. ‘Yes, yes, yes!’ he enthused, pumping his fist in time to the music. ‘Nice thrusting, Joyce! Let’s see if we can’t shake those new hips loose!’
‘You’re killing us, Russell!’
Russell turned, ready to ball-out his complainant but a movement in the corner of his eye distracted him; his secretary, Meg, stood at the office door, mouthing the word “urgent” as she brandished a phone receiver in the air. This was followed by a shrug. Obviously the caller thought it was important, but Meg wasn’t so sure. He batted her away and returned his attention to the class.
‘That’s good, Stephen, one hundred and ten percent! We tolerate nothing less here!’
Eventually the song ended, much to the relief of everyone except Russell, who frowned menacingly at his class. He set up the next track but then glanced back at his office. Maybe he should take that call; give this lot a break before one of them keels over. ‘Five minutes, everyone… but I’ll be back,’ he said, with a wink at Margaret.
‘What’s this urgent call, Meg?’
‘Dunno, someone called Michael. Claims you need to call him back asap,’ replied Meg, with little interest.
Did he know any Michaels? Probably, but no close friends or business associates sprang to mind. He sighed loudly. ‘Well did you ask what it was about!?’
‘He wouldn’t say, just that–’
‘–it was urgent. It’s probably just spam.’ Russell regarded his class through the office window. They were exhausted for this session, anyway. ‘What the hell, give me the phone!’
‘Hello, this is Russell Tebb, am I speaking to “Michael”?’ A few electronic clicks and splutters followed suggesting he was about to be put through to a call centre. Russell dabbed sweat away from his eyes and waited, temper rising...
‘Hello, Russell, thanks for returning my call,’ came the polite English voice. ‘We met during your recent visit to Ayahuasca.’
‘We met during your recent visit to Ayahuasca.’
What the hell was this guy talking about? He’d not stepped outside of London for over a year! But then the penny dropped, and he thought he knew who this person must be. This “visit to Ayahuasca” was the caller’s glib way of saying “ayahuasca trip”:
About six months earlier Russell had come to hear of a visiting Brazilian shaman who was running an ayahuasca-based workshop in Hammersmith. The controversy surrounding this had received some publicity and Russell began to take an interest in the story when it was reported that drug addicts had been able to kick their habits after only one session with the shaman and his powerful hallucinogen. Some friends of his then suggested he try it himself – for his own cocaine dependency. Russell was somewhat affronted by this, and sceptical, but he was willing to give it a try, since nothing else had worked, and he did want to be clean. He booked himself a rather expensive session with the shaman.
‘This your first time?’ the long-haired eco-warrior type had enquired, as he joined Russell in a waiting area.
‘Yeah, first and only probably… got a bit of a coke issue.’
The man nodded. ‘If you’re looking to break a drug addiction, this will certainly help, it’s very good at that – as long as you have a shaman along to prepare everything and guide you through the ritual.’
‘Yeah, but don’t worry, man, this guy’s good. One of the most celebrated shamans in the world!’
‘Well, that would account for the cost,’ replied Russell, with a nervous laugh. The crusty scrutinized him closely, but did not reply.
‘Have you done this before?’ Russell asked.
‘Yep, this’ll be my fourth trip on A,’ replied the man, with some pride.
‘What, so it didn’t work first time for you?’
Russell’s new scruffy friend grunted a laugh and replied rather grandly: ‘I’m not here to deal with any drug or mental health issues, I’m here to “commune”.’ Russell stared blankly at the man, who then pointed up: ‘With ET.’
No mental health issues, right? But Russell’s companion picked up on his scepticism.
‘Oh, they’re real, man. They’re called the Sponsors, and they’ve been involved in human affairs for a very long time.’
Russell had wanted to end this conversation and was even thinking of leaving, but the man persisted: ‘Every aspect of human affairs is run, err, guided, by the Sponsors. Only with ayahuasca do you get to deal with them on equal terms.’
‘Are they friendly, these aliens?’
For the first time the man looked pensive, ‘Not really–’
It was at this point that Russell, his new chum and about eight others had been ushered through to the main hall and instructed to drink from a communal bowl of milky sludge. Not long after, the whole ghastly business began...
‘Hello? Russell? Are you still there?’
Russell glared at the phone receiver. If this “Michael” thought he’d be interested in another dalliance with ayahuasca he could shove it!
‘Michael!! That “visit to ayahuasca” was utterly horrifying,’ Russell bellowed down the phone, to the shock of Meg who jumped back, ‘I was completely off my head!!’
‘Yes, haha, you were talking nonsense most of the time. It was very funny!’
‘Yes, anyway, I want to talk to you about the Sponsors. We’ve looked into the matter and there is, as you pointed out, a serious issue here.’
Oh, God... ‘Listen, Michael… wait a minute, you told me about the bloody Sponsors.’
The caller persisted, ‘We need to meet right now.’
‘I know shit about any of this, Michael, so why don’t you go and take a running jump, …into the Thames, preferably!?’
‘What would be the point of that?’
Russell was lost for words. He really didn’t need this; the ayahuasca was something he thought he’d put behind him, but it sounded as though Michael had persisted with the drug, finally becoming addled enough to believe that all this alien conspiracy crap had originated from him!
‘You need help, Michael.’
‘Yes, help from you, Russell. I’m outside your studio now.’
This was starting to take a somewhat sinister turn. Russell did not recall telling this person anything about himself nor where he worked, and yet… here he was. He peered out of his office window down to the busy street below but was unable t
‘You’re outside now?’
‘Very well, I’ll see you briefly but I’m running a class at the moment, so you’ve only got a few minutes, and if you start any trouble, I should warn you I’m–’
The phone line went dead just as the front door buzzed several times. Urgent bastard, Russell thought, as he put down the phone and wondered how to proceed. His class had almost finished their session and would no doubt be grateful if let off a little early, but he didn’t want this geezer entering the premises and bothering them, or Meg. He’d release the class and deal with Michael at the front door.
‘What on earth was all that about?’ enquired Meg.
Russell smiled and shook his head, ‘Nothing much, just some rubbish, I’ll deal with it now. Could you inform the class that their session is over?’
‘Sure,’ replied Meg, frowning.
Russell departed from the office with Meg and paused briefly at the dance floor door to check there were no complaints about the early finish. As he’d hoped, there were none. He headed down the stairs and braced himself for a potentially difficult confrontation. He paused at the front door, inhaled to puff himself up and opened it.
‘Hi, I’m Michael. We met during your recent visit to Ayahuasca.’
It wasn’t the crusty guy after all, but Michael was correct, they had already met:
The ayahuasca trip turned out to be a chaotic, delirious nightmare set in some fetid jungle swamp. Everything around him was alive and stinking: plants, insects, things in the water… Worst of all was that damned spider! The oversized tarantula kept approaching him from the undergrowth, or from the trees. He would try to kick it away but it would always evade him with its lightning-fast reactions. Then it would be back. Sometimes it was literally on his back. He’d struggle frantically to grab it and wrench it free, but again it would dodge him and be lost to the jungle – only to reappear again shortly thereafter.
During a partially lucid moment – one in which he knew himself to be tripping, but was still nonetheless stuck in the jungle – he remembered the man and his blissful communing with aliens. So Russell closed his eyes, deliberately steadied his nerves and his breathing; he ignored the sounds and smells of his surroundings and thought only about flying saucers and shit. But when he again opened his eyes, the spider would be standing directly ahead, mere inches away: black and lustrous, the size of a dog, its multiple eyes blazing an iridescent green. And then it would dart away again. At least it never bit him.
And so the nightmare continued – for hour after torturous hour. When he did finally begin to straighten out he felt terribly terribly ill and the nausea that had accompanied the trip persisted for weeks afterwards; ironically it was that that finally got him off the coke.
The giant spider from the jungle swamp extended a forepaw and Russell instinctively shook it. ‘Can we come in? Thanks.’ Without waiting for a reply the spider pushed past Russell and scuttled up the stairs; behind it strode a statuesque woman, and behind her came a fat tomcat. The cat glared at him as it sauntered in. In a moment all three were out of sight.
Russell was stunned. Seconds later his dance class came down the steps.
‘See you next week, Russell,’ said Margaret, with a wink. The others smiled; everyone seemed to be in good cheer.
‘Great work out!’ said one old chap, Russell couldn’t remember his name.
Meg followed, putting on her coat.
‘See you later, Russell,’ she said, with a smile.
Russell grabbed her arm, ‘Did you just see what came up there!?’
‘Was that your phone call?’
‘Huh?’ Russell was about to describe exactly what he’d just seen but then it occurred to him that all of this could just be some kind of flashback. No point advertising the fact to Meg, so he just said: ‘Yes.’
Meg shrugged, ‘See ya!’ and she was gone, closing the front door behind her.
The aerobics studio should be empty now, apart from the visitors, but were they real? Christ, he hoped not, although that would imply he was seriously delusional. Better that than Mike the spider! He dashed up the stairs and onto the dance floor.
He was not alone. The three manifestations of his “flashback” were present also, but spread out across the large room. The tall woman stood near him by the front door, the tomcat paced back and forth on the low stage Russell normally occupied during dance classes and “Michael” was stationary by his office door. All of them were staring at him. He decided to start with the woman and regarded her closely for the first time:
She had short, wavy brown hair, and wore a simple black knee-length dress. She was well proportioned, athletic even, with clear muscle definition to her arms and legs. At well over six feet in height she towered over Russell. Her eyes, a vivid blue/green surrounding small penetrating pupils, focused hard on Russell. Was that a shotgun over her shoulder? The woman leant against a wall so it was not easy to tell; the meat cleaver held in a calf holster was in stark view, however. She seemed to be very tooled up. And there was a smell, what was that? Raspberries? The woman’s full red lips pursed as they sucked languidly on... something. Russell stared, hypnotized.
At that instant the woman suddenly spat out the contents of her mouth and Russell felt something adhere to his forehead; he wrenched it off and inspected a red boiled sweet. He heard sniggering and quickly turned around. The cat and the spider were still gawping at him but the cat had stopped pacing. As Russell tentatively approached, it squared up to him in a classic come-and-have-a-go-if-you-think-you’re-hard-enough stance. With its Mike-Tyson head, muscular thick-set body and gun-metal grey pelt – more like that of a seal than a cat – it certainly looked dangerous. If the woman had the demeanour of a gangster boss then this cat was the hard-man enforcer. Russell stopped, he wasn’t going to step any closer to it.
And so that left Mike. Odd that in this company only the gigantic tarantula appeared to be the approachable one. Well, it did have a pleasant phone manner.
‘Alright, Michael,’ said Russell, approaching the spider slowly, ‘You want to talk about the Sponsors?’ but the spider moved away to its right without replying. Hmm, surreal though this experience was it completely lacked the chaos of the original ayahuasca trip. An obvious thought occurred:
‘Are you the Sponsors?’ he asked, but the spider kept moving away to its right without answering. Russell continued approaching realizing that he was walking towards the stage, and the angry tomcat, but the cat had also moved away to its right. He glanced back at the woman and saw that she too had begun to circle in the same direction. Russell continued to advance on the spider as it retreated right, but as the pace quickened he suddenly realized that the three things were not just circling, they were in fact spiralling in towards him. He stopped abruptly.
‘Halt!’ He shouted. The three things obliged; all were suddenly motionless, now just a few feet away, surrounding him. He made ready to bolt. The exit door! But something there blocked his path. ‘Is that a blackboard?’ It was. An old-style wooden blackboard made lighter and shinier from years of overuse. For some reason it held all of his attention.
And then the room appeared to swim as he found himself standing directly before the blackboard. The woman stood next to him brandishing a piece of hard flinty chalk under his nose; she then deliberately placed it on the board and pressed hard, causing the tip to splinter.
‘Brace yourself, Russell,’ said the spider, finally breaking the intolerable silence, ‘at least this will be quicker than your visit to Ayahuasca.’
But Russell barely heard it. The tall glamorous woman smiled a sort of ear-to-ear sneer as she began to drag the reluctant chalk down the blackboard. The high-pitched, ear-shattering screech was utterly unbearable. Russell primal screamed.
The Gang of Four by Richard Lawther / Science Fiction have rating 3.8 out of 5 / Based on38 votes