Beep!

BEEP

Ken Twining was finishing his third procrast-a-chino when the beeping began. He leaped up, excited by a new excuse to put off revising last night’s chapter, and started to look for its source.

He fished his cell phone out from behind the sofa cushion. Dead. Just as dead as it had been when he stuffed it there in frustration after it cut him off mid-sentence to Bekkah last night. He took the charger from his desk drawer and was fumbling the prong into the cell when the beep called him back to the dark recesses of his lounge. He dropped the phone and strained his eyes to see into the domestic gloom. His phone lay forgotten, charging in the open desk drawer.

The morning sun lit dust fairies that danced before Ken’s eyes. The blank TV screen glowered back at him and on the coffee table an empty pizza box balanced on a pile of old newspapers, magazines and rejection letters.

“While you work shows promise, we do not see how it would fit into a mainstream publisher as ourselves….”; “…and although it is well written, I was unable to detect even the merest hint of a plot”; “… I would strongly advise you to consider some other career for yourself.”

No one appreciated Ken’s talent. He knew he had something worth saying. He just hadn’t yet found the right order for the words.

BEEP

Christ-all-fucking-mighty! Where was the bloody noise coming from? He pushed the sofa over to one side then the other, looking for something hidden underneath that was trying to get his attention. He found dust bunnies, a few pens and coins and a torn condom wrapper. There was nothing there to beep at him. It was the same story with the Lazeeboy. Whole load of silent crap.

Ken went back to his computer screen and blinked with the cursor on the blank page. Deep breath, dude, he said to himself. He sat down and flexed his fingers over the crumb strewn buttons. He called up Chapter The Third of “Mr Pickering’s Dilemma” and began reading. Whatever it was, it couldn’t beep forever, he thought. His fingers dashed over the keys, digital tourettes commenting and improving on last night’s work. Outside the sun stretched up into the sky, heading towards lunch and more coffee. Ken lost himself in his story, oblivious to the rest of the world until

BEEP

No!!! He slammed his puny fist onto the plywood of his desk then winced and hid his hand under his arm.

He turned on the radio and sat back down to try to get back into the creative flow, but no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t concentrate with the incessant chatter and screech of the local DJ. He stuck his fingers in his ears. Good idea, Ken, he murmured. You might not be able to hear the radio but what are you going to use to type with? He turned the tuning dial, strafing between hip-hop and talk until he found a station playing classical music. Measured violins and a cello supported a single, plaintive oboe. Ken took a deep sigh and turned his attention back to his screen. “Mr. Pickering had no idea how he would pay for his mother’s operation, but he knew he would do whatever it to…”

BEEP

Above the gentle strings the beeping noise had started again. Ken turned up the volume.

BEEP

No matter how loud Ken cranked up the radio, the beeping could be heard above it. He switched stations again.

Hip-hop

BEEP

R & B

BEEP

Jazz

BEEP

Death Metal

BEEP

Aaaaargghhh!! Ken stood up quickly and kicked his chair behind him. It skid over the wooden floor before hitting the glass coffee table with a loud clatter. The pizza box and papers slid onto the floor, fanning out in a random pattern. He smashed his still tender hand against the radio off button, his resultant scream breaking the silence. The Twining men were not renowned for their stoicism.

Ken breathed deeply. In, and out. His apartment was silent, save for the gentle whir from his computer’s fan. He was almost afraid to sit down and start work again in case it triggered the beeps. Instead, he flopped down on the sofa, holding a flaccid cushion to his chest. He closed his eyes and drifted into a dreamless sleep.

When he woke the apartment was in darkness but for the blue glow of his screensaver. Ken listened. Silence. No beep.Thank Christ, he thought. I can get back to work. Not wanting to rush into anything, he went into his kitchen where he shoved a TV dinner in the microwave and poured himself a beer. The beeping had stopped. The batteries had run out on whatever had been making the damned electronic noise earlier. He watched the plastic carton spin around on the oven turntable, little spits of hot sauce pinging against the cellophane wrap. The beer was cold and the bottle was perspiring in the heat of the small kitchen.

BEEP

Ken jumped.

BEEP

He tightened his grip on the beer bottle neck.

BEEP

The turntable halted and the internal light clicked off. Ken laughed nervously. It was only the damned microwave. He relaxed his grip on the beer and pulled open the oven door. Steam snaked up from the bubbling chilli and he “oo-aa-ed” as he took the box out when

BEEP

Ken dropped the chilli on the kitchen floor. Fuck he screamed. Where, in the name of all that is holy, is this beep coming from? He giant-stepped over the steaming mess and ran from

BEEP

room to

BEEP

room, throwing cushions, books, pictures and dirty clothing around as he pursued the cause of the noise. He tore the sheets from the bed and upended the mattress, sending down showers of dust as it hit against the light shade. He pulled open his wardrobe door and threw his dress shoes into the air where they tumbled against the window leaving a crack in the glass. He pushed his porn collection to one side and threw his childhood photographs onto the bed, searching, searching for the source of the beep. In the bathroom the towels were snatched from the shelf and tossed into the grimy bath. He paced the hallway, wildly emptying cupboards he hadn’t opened since moving in three years ago.

BEEP

Back in the lounge he turned over the sofa, tearing at the sacking sealing its internal cavities. His fingers left bloody streaks along the leather as he forced them into the dusty crevasses.

BEEP

WHAT WAS MAKING THE FUCKING BEEP?

Ken tried to think about who – or what – would want to do this to him. He might not have many friends, but he didn’t think he had any enemies either. And who could have got into his apartment anyway? There had been no one here for months. Apart from Bekkah, and surely Bekkah wouldn’t…

Christ, Ken, you need to grow up.”

“Oh, come on, love. You know I need to do this.”

“What I need, Ken Twining, is a boyfriend who appreciates me, who will make time for me in his life. If you can’t see that then you can just go to f-“ and Ken’s phone had died.

Of course, he thought, smacking his forehead with his bruised palm. If anyone wanted to hurt him it was Bekkah. So needy, so me me me. She never saw how important his writing was to him. She never gave a flying toss for Mr. Pickering’s Dilemma and never would. How better to get to Ken than by interrupting his writing. She was always interrupting him – wanting to go out, wanting to go shopping wanting to … to talk. Ken shivered. Bitch. He’d have it out with her, find out where she hid the beep machine and get back to work.

Now, he thought, where did he leave his phone? He went over to his desk and picked up the cell from the drawer. He dialled Bekkah’s number and waited for her to answer. Come on, he murmured. “Answer the bloody phone, woman.

“Hello, you’ve reached Bekkah Sharp’s phone. You know what to do after the –“

BEEP

Nooooo!!!!!!! Ken threw the phone onto the desk where it shattered leaving small pieces of sharp plastic over the keyboard.

BEEP

He fell to the floor, landing heavily on his knees and began to sob, big wracking spasms of despair. Falling backwards, he banged his head against the floor and pulled his legs out from under him, spreading out his limbs until he resembled Da Vinci’s Vetruvian Man, a human starfish floundering on the floorboards. As his crying subsided he opened his eyes, looking up towards the ceiling. There, just at the entrance to the kitchen, was the small round plastic casing of the smoke detector. As he watched it blinked a small red eye and called out to him.

BEEP

Red blink.

BEEP

The smoke detector! The sodding smoke detector!

Ken started to laugh, a small bubble of happiness that made its way up through his entire body until it emerged from lips stretched in a rictus grin as something not quite human.

BEEP

He got to his feet and stretched up to remove the casing to get to the small battery that powered it. He tossed the battery from hand to hand. It was only the smoke detector. All it needed was a new battery and he could get back to his writing. Still smiling, he walked over to the kitchen where he knew a fresh pack of batteries was waiting for him in the top drawer. The beeping had stopped. Life could get back to normal. As he entered the kitchen the jingle from his cell caught his attention and he glanced back over his shoulder, amazed that his smashed phone still worked.

Ken didn’t see the pool of congealed minced beef on the floor. He baby-stepped into it and slid, an ungainly Bambi, arms windmilling, spent battery flying through the air until it and he fell to the floor. He smacked his temple against the counter on the way down, causing blood to seep down into the chilli until no one would be sure where Ken ended and the chilli began.

He lay there, vainly trying to hang on to consciousness and thought at least I discovered where the beeping was coming from. Ken’s eyes began to close. I won. I stopped the fucking b-“

BEEP

BEEP

BEEP

©Nettie Thomson 2010

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