Image: The Guardian 29/12
The Four Horsemen are gathering…and one man tries to do something about it!
Strange thing, this bonfire of the personalities. Whatttt! George Michael and now Carrie Fisher! Followed the next day by her mom Debbie Reynolds…One after the bloody other! The names paraded through Gregor’s mind as he strode up Chiswick High Street. And David Bowie, of course. That one felt like a personal bereavement. Muhammad Ali! A punch to the midriff. Leonard Cohen, growling his way off into the sunset. Prince! Fidel Castro…Gene Wilder…Zsa Zsa Gabor, just the other day Darrrrling…what’s so special about 2016? Or is it so special? Must Google celebrity deaths 2016. And go back in time. Is there a website which compares this year with previous years? Or is it that this year was the year all one’s icons have reached the right age to die? But poor George Michael was only 53.
But it was Jo Cox’ death that had hurt him the most. Bastards.
He turned left at Acton Lane and followed the curve of the road to Chiswick Park station. His mobile leapt into his hand. “Hi Siri” he said, “Celebrity deaths 2016” “Checking” said Siri, then almost immediately “I found this for Celebrity deaths 2016”. Lists, lists.
Victoria Wood. Her self-parodying heartfelt comic voice now only digital. All these people. Now digital.
Oh no, Harper Lee. Killed long after her bird mocked the prejudices and bigotry of the American South.
The ugly grey stained concrete of the Deco station inserted itself into his life like an unwelcome alien space ship. He pocketed the phone, tapped through the barrier, rushed up the stairs and boarded a waiting District Line train. He sat down, melted into his mobile screen.
Alan Rickman. A professional baddie.
John Glenn. Saw the Earth as it should be. Beautiful.
The tube carriage mounted into the sky.
Terry Wogan…that’s seriously unfair. Now there is no ironic excuse to watch Eurovision.
Margaret Forster…gave me my first enthusiastic review back in the eighties.
“The next station is Earl’s Court” the recorded announcement lied.
And what about Ronnie Corbett! and Umberto Eco even – too many names. So many and each one what Gregor would call a Good One. Not always good through their lives, true, but each with a strong streak of good running right through. Like a beam of love he would have said, had he been a soppy sort.
With a sigh he looked up. Everything had gone utterly silent. No rattle, no hum, no roar.
This is Wrong, he thought. With a capital W.
He stared through the window at the utter black of vacuum. And gradually he became aware of the passengers seated opposite. A yawning, frowning, huddling gurn of faces in a row like balls set up for a purpose yet to be invented, probably one of those perpetual motion machines – if you tapped one it would tap the next and so on all up the line and then back again. And each time each head would say Hello Mate!
I must be dead I suppose, he thought. Either that or I’ve gone suddenly deaf. And we’re passing through the blackest of black tunnels.
He realised that somehow the number of people in the carriage was increasing exponentially. Even the aisle began to fill up with hollow ones, frozen to their phones.
No, that’s it. I’m dead. I’ll never fulfil my mission now, he thought. Westminster is so far away. He clutched his briefcase tightly to his lap.
Meanwhile the recorded voice went on lying, station by station, as if there was such a thing as a destination, until, unaccountably, it stopped.
The doors slid open and there was nothing but light outside. Passengers stared, stunned, confused. “What on earth is happening?” He asked no-one.
A blowsy woman in green said “I have no idea! This bloody District line just gets worse! I have to get to Debenhams by 4!”
A youth in a hoodie laughed. “You’ll be lucky!” he said.
The announcement nevertheless took them quite by surprise. “Ladies and gentlemen and others. You have arrived at your destination. This train terminates here. Kindly abandon this train. I repeat, kindly abandon the train. You must leave all your baggage inside. I repeat, all your baggage.”
They stood, milled about, then like well-conditioned London commuters, they followed orders.
“I am the Conductor,” a portly man in a London Underground uniform using a loudhailer, introduced himself to the passengers as they stood in a confused clump along the platform. “I will be leading you to your destination.” A clamour of voices, questions, demands, incomprehension was met by bland reassurance. “I can understand your confusion of course! I will explain. There is nothing to worry about.” He walked to about the middle of the platform and continued.
“I knew it! The Seventh Day Adventist blurted. “It’s the Day of Judgement! We are the Blessed!”
“You’re nuts” a hipster giggled. “Religious nut are you?”
“You may laugh,” the nut said. “I realised yesterday when I was looking at the list of all the great and the good that died this year. It’s the Apocalypse! All of them were Christians who had seen the light! God hath gathered them up unto him.”
“Uh, no, that’s not true…” the Conductor muttered.
“Yes it is! The Four Horsemen are gathered. The Trump, the ISIS, the whatsname, Russian President, and Mick Jagger I should think…we predicted it! It’s the End of the World and we have been saved!”
“Not quite,” the Conductor said. “If only we were that well organised! We have been making rather a lot of cock ups recently. Actually, there are only two thousand three hundred places and we are oversubscribed. And no, we don’t only take Christians. And obviously we have made a mistake with you, young lady. In fact there are far too many of you here. Some will have to be injured.”
What! A furious babble of protest erupted. What do you mean injured? This line gets worse!
“On behalf of the Underground my sincere apologies ladies gentlemen. I will need to divide you into In and Out, Injured and dead. Right! Any volunteers?”
“I have no intention of being either!” The fat lady spouted. “My daughter is waiting for me in the tea shop at Debenhams and believe me, you wouldn’t want to keep her waiting!”
“Really madam? And who else has an urgent appointment?”
“Well me ” Gregor said. “Me.”
“Really? And what was your appointment if I may ask?”
“Well,” Gregor said modestly, “apparently I was supposed to save the world.”
“Really?” The Conductor chortled disbelievingly. Other passengers tittered.
“Oh yes!” Gregor said. ”You see, I am a Special Advisor to Theresa May, our Prime Minister.”
“Show off!” The youth said contemptuously.
“Oh yes,” said the Conductor, “it is perfectly possible. So why was your presence at the meeting so important? Prime Ministers have several Special Advisors. Paid lots of money apparently” He laughed.
“It was a very special meeting,” Gregor said. ”A very secret meeting.”
“Ah.” said the Conductor. “Well, we have no secrets here,” he said. “Why don’t you tell us all about it? Well, everybody we’re about to hear a story! So let’s all sit down. Do you want to hear a story?” he asked.
“Yes yes” the other passengers chorused, and like obedient children, mouths agape, they sat on the dusty platform.
So Gregor told them all about it. What the hell, now he was dead nothing mattered. He told them how he was supposed to meet with the PM and travel with her to a top secret destination in the countryside where a top secret meeting had been set up. So top secret that only a few people had the slightest idea as to where it would take place and who would attend.
“But I know who was to attend,” he said.
“Who, who?” they asked
“Well, we have had all the great leaders and leaders-to be smuggled into the country in disguise. There’s Vladimir Putin. For example.”
“Who?” the hoodie boy asked.
“And Donald Trump of course.”
“What!” the Conductor gasped.
“And the deputy leader of ISIS, Abu Muslim al-Turkmani”
“Not to mention some of the leaders of the right wing in Europe, like Le Pen, Wilders, Hofer, Grillo…”
“Is this a stupid question,” an elderly gentleman in a striped suit asked, “but – well, why?”
“Why? Why?” many others clamoured.
“Yes, the Conductor asked, genuinely bemused. “Why?”
“Well first I need to explain that this is by no means their first meeting. No. Every couple of years or so the leaders of the world get together in secret to make plans for the next year, work out who will win which wars, organise the distribution of wealth into their bank accounts, and so on.”
“What!” The old man said.
“They’ve been meeting secretly since Kruschev first set them up.” he said.
“I knew that,” the obligatory Rasta smiled. “Obvious!”
“Third time for Trump of course. Obama refused to join.”
“Who would have guessed” the Conductor said with a smile.
“So this time I decided to blow them up.”
There was silence in that huge place. No breath was breathed.
Until, eventually: “Blow them up?” the Conductor asked. Aghast.
“Obviously. I have been an organiser of these meetings for years. But this year the bonfire of the celebrities finally pissed me off. I advised against it! But they never listen to my advice. They just made this decision to delete all people who could possibly suspect what they are up to. All the Good Ones. All the Smart Ones”
“Tell me something, “the Conductor asked. “What is in your briefcase?”
“Why,” Gregor answered. “The bomb of course!” He opened the flap and stared inside. It was completely empty.
“The bomb went off,” the Conductor said sadly. “At Chiswick Park Station. So now we know why.”
“I guess we do,” Gregor said sadly.
Is there a Great Plan?
Or is this just cock up
Of God or Man?