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Do Not Open

What is so dangerous that it has to be walled up in the attic?

The prospect of decorating never appealed to Derek. It was always a case of putting it off until later, but later never came. He would make excuses that he would often believe himself, such was the conviction he told them with. Yet, today, he had actually made a start, dampening the wallpaper to make it easier to strip. His wife was no help whatsoever. It was her constant pestering that forced him to make a start if only to keep her quiet.

The hall was first, where there was an elegantly carved table, upon which lay the telephone. It couldn’t stay there while he was working, so his wife suggested putting it in the loft. Derek couldn’t see why putting it in the loft would make it any safer, than putting it in the spare room or bedroom. But once his wife’s mind was made up, that was that. The table had to go in the loft, along with many other miscellaneous items that would be ‘safe’ up there. Most manageable furniture would end up in there, Derek thought. There was no reasoning with her. Derek had been married to her for 22 years, most of them happy. At least that’s what Derek told himself.

He had convinced himself that she was the only woman for him. As it was these days, with Derek being the exact opposite of a male model, at 59, with a beer gut, and his faculties slowing down with age, he had become the epitome of the answer to the question in relation to his wife: Who else would have him? He had accepted the way things were. If he tried to change anything within his marriage, then he always sought her approval, or permission, accepting her answer, always without question. She was downstairs now, making cottage pie. He didn’t like cottage pie, never had.

One remark, 18 years ago as to what he thought of her cooking was enough to keep him in cottage pies for years. ’ Yes, this is lovely,’ he had said, and that was that. It was cottage pie every Tuesday. It didn’t matter. She always saw Irene on Tuesday for a social evening at the local conservative club for card games, bingo, line dancing, and all manner of activities that she enjoyed along with people of a similar age. Derek used her absence to go to the takeaway. Char siu and chips, covered in curry. It was sheer bliss. When he had finished, he always disposed of the empty packet by leaning over the fence in the garden and putting it into next door’s wheelie-bin. For seventeen years she had never suspected.

Tonight was his little bit of freedom to relax in front of the TV and watch what he wanted. The remote control was all his. In the meantime, he had to haul the table up into the loft. The stepladders were open beneath the dark square in the hallway ceiling, and he found himself having to find a torch. He retrieved one from the garage, one bought for him for his birthday six years ago by his wife, and hardly used. Its beam was powerful and picked out everything in the loft in glaring intensity, including a collection of broken pieces of furniture, no use to anyone, piled up in the far corner. Putting broken furniture up in the loft was one thing, Derek thought, but then piling it all up in the corner meant to him that there could be a reason for it, or somebody had had nothing better to do.

Perhaps it was hiding something, he wondered. Having been here for four years, and only once having ventured into the loft, he had never thought that it could be concealing something. There was nothing else of interest up there. Layers of asbestos, an empty, dust-laden bin-bag, a piece of wire, and a piece of broken glass. With the torch laid at an appropriate angle, Derek began to move the pile, starting with a piece of chair leg at the bottom. He should have thought, but he didn’t, that beginning at the top would have been easier, as the whole pile came crashing down. He jumped back, clutching onto a wooden post. Thick dust swirled like black smoke from burning tyres and clogged his throat, making him cough like he did the first time he had tried a cigarette, 40 years ago.

The ceiling remained intact, but Derek was more worried about the wife. He was waiting for a call from downstairs to ask just what on earth the noise was, but when nothing came, he assumed she must be out in the backyard, or somewhere out of earshot. The torch was underneath the furniture somewhere, producing muted shafts of light through the wood. One beam, deflected from the surface of half a coffee table, despite the thick layer of dust, cast the wall, hidden by the pile of useless furniture, in a muted yellow hue. Derek came to the conclusion that the furniture was hiding nothing. It was a blank wall.

At least, Derek believed it was a blank wall until he looked a little closer. He stepped over the furniture and managed to crouch down and see that part of the wall was a different colour. Most of the bricks were old and encrusted with grime, but one part held new bricks, hastily cemented together. There were six bricks that Derek guessed had not been there as long as those surrounding them. It seemed as though somebody had sealed something up.

It didn’t take him long to go downstairs to the garage and retrieve a hammer and chisel. He was soon back up inside the loft, chiselling away at the bricks. He found them to be quite tough, chipping away small fragments of cement upon each strike of the hammer. But eventually, he managed to remove them all, but couldn’t see inside because the light did not filter within. So he found himself having to retrieve the torch, a task he found quite difficult, as it was almost concealed under the weight of the furniture. Eventually, he grasped it and was soon pointing it into the hole in the wall.

Perhaps the last thing he would expect to see was what Derek was looking at. Who put that there? And why? He thought as he stared at the compact disc cemented into the adjoining wall. The case was unremovable, but its Perspex front could be opened and the CD removed. On the CD itself, the words: ‘DO NOT OPEN’ were written in black felt tip pen. He looked closer and discovered that it was a CD ROM. He opened the cover and removed it. It looked usable and free of dust. In the small, spare room, Derek had a computer which he used as a form of escapism when he wanted to stay out of his wife’s way. He would, as the phrase says: ‘surf the web.’ That was all it was used for. He never bothered to buy any software for it, not seeing any need.

The internet was sufficient enough for his requirements. Not that he had any requirements. It was a novelty at first. He had been seduced by TV and press adverts, proclaiming all its good points. When he had had it installed, he searched for virtually everything, playing with it like a child with a new toy, but eventually, he settled into familiar sites that he always came back to. Sites about cars, and holiday destinations. All places he would like to visit, preferably without her downstairs.

Eager to find out what was on the disc, it took him almost two minutes to climb down through the hatch, one foot trying to find the top of the step ladder. Eventually, he climbed down, disc in hand, and went straight into the small room to turn on the machine. As it took its time coming on, Derek looked out of the window, at the eyesore across the road. Even when it was occupied it was an eyesore, but now it seemed even more so, as it was being allowed to be run down and neglected. Bramwell high-security prison held no convicts. All its occupants had been dispersed to various other holdings around the country, its last prisoner leaving four years ago. Derek didn’t know why it had closed. There had been conflicting views as to the exact reason, but the gist of it came down to money.

There had seemed to be a distinct lack of it, or somebody wasn’t putting it where it should be. It didn’t matter why exactly it had closed. The fact remained that across the road there was an empty structure that once housed some of the country’s most dangerous criminals. Now it was a shell, home to any rats that had the freedom to run along the corridors, and spiders that had spun their webs in the corners, waiting patiently for any flies. No longer did those corridors echo the voices of those whose liberty had been taken from them, the walls absorbing the hatred at being locked away, at not being able to roam the countryside, at not being able to take their children to the fun fair. Freedom for them was something to be dreamed about. The despair they must have felt at the thought of remaining like that for the rest of their sentence must have made the emotional impact intolerable. To spend five minutes alone must have been a reward, but not in solitary confinement, where too much time alone could cause further psychological damage.

The prison system had probably got it all wrong, causing unknown anguish so that the prisoners suffered worse than that which had been intended by the court that put them there. Yet they were in there for a reason, to be shut away from the society that rejected them because they were a danger, a threat. It did not matter how much they suffered inside because nobody cared. They chose the criminal way of life, so they must face the consequences should they be caught, and any further suffering caused by isolation or over-crowding was a bonus to the victims of the crimes.

They were prisoners, simple as that, law-breakers, people who had opted out of normal society, having chosen instead to step over the threshold of what is accepted by the majority of the public. Once they were behind the prison walls, out of sight, nobody cared who they were, except friends and family. Society only cared that they were paying for their crimes. Once justice had been meted out to those to whom it is deserved, then people were happy. It wasn’t Derek’s idea to move here. He had had to be persuaded by his wife, but the answer was always going to be yes. She had wanted to be closer to her sister who was in an out of hospital like a person who worked there, complaining about this, complaining about that. They had been moving house anyway, and this house had seemed quite adequate, its price considerably lower than what they had expected, perhaps due to an irrational fear of escaped prisoners.

The computer came on, and Derek became hesitant in putting the disc inside the machine. What if it contained a virus? It could wipe everything from the hard drive. He realised that there wasn’t much saved in it anyway, and that curiosity would get the better of him. Despite his reservations, and indeed the warning on the disc, he knew he was going to put the disc in the machine, and he did.

It took a few seconds for the autoplay feature to activate, and when it did, the screen went black, then white, and icons began to appear in the form of prison cell bars. Beneath each was a number. It stopped after ten icons appeared. Beneath them, the warning was repeated, but his time in flashing red: ‘DO NOT OPEN.’ Derek knew he was going to open one of them. Again, his curiosity wouldn’t let him obey the message. He chose an icon and double-clicked on it.

Suddenly there was a surge of electricity that came through the mouse, and he found he could not let go. It was as though he was receiving an electric shock.

His soul or essence was being pulled into the computer, and he felt his life draining away as though he was bleeding to death. It wasn’t long before he had been taken into the computer. His lifeless body was slumped in the chair, hand still gripped tightly to the mouse. It began to surge again, power, or essence, flowing back into his form. He began to re-animate, and when the flow stopped, he let go of the mouse and jolted back. It took him a few seconds to re-orientate himself, and when he did, he stood up and looked around.

It was not Derek’s mind, but the mind of the person who had been trapped inside the disc on the icon selected by him. Within each image there was a different person, trapped on the disc, waiting for an opportunity such as this to possess a person’s being and once again interact with the physical world. Karl Melville walked to the window and looked out at the prison across the road. It had been his home for so long, his home because he had murdered two teenagers for trying to break into his car. For most of his life, he had been in and out of prison, as he used to be a member of a gang, or syndicate, that opened up bars and clubs, funded mostly by drug money.

The teenagers were not to know they were breaking into a known gangster’s car, but he had no sympathy. He had been carrying a handgun at the time, which held sixteen bullets, all of them pumped into the thieves. At that time, Karl had been sixty-two, and with his past reputation, and with the murders, witnessed by a few people, he knew that he was going down for a long time. He wasn’t surprised to receive a sentence of 25 years, and he knew that he would probably die in jail. Along with the others who were trapped on the disc, he was one of those who died in prison and was buried in its grounds.

One of the prison workers, who helped to try and rehabilitate those who could not fit in with society, occasionally found himself alone in the place where prisoners were buried. When there was a new arrival, he would perform an ancient Indian ritual where the soul would be trapped in a certain place until it is set free. Being technological minded, he had matched both interests to store their souls onto the disc. It was not for malevolent purposes that he had done it. He had thought that if he had access to their consciousness, he could continue his psychoanalysis of them, and try to alter their personality in order to make them compliant members of society again before they returned to crime.

How he would actually achieve this without a body for them to possess, he had no idea. He was more interested in experimenting with them.

Once he was satisfied that they had altered their way of thinking, and were ready to enter back into civilisation, he would find a suitable body for him to use in order to attempt it.

It was a test or trial. One that was never fully accomplished, because the souls, trapped on the disc were highly resentful that they had been used in that way. They were angry, malevolent spirits. They were resentful mainly of the fact that he would not let them rest in peace. For most of their lives, they had been locked away in prison, ending up dying there, and then locked away on a disc for what could well be an eternity. The man had lived across the road from the prison and devoted more time to his experiments when the place had closed.

One of the prisoners, who was remorseful about his crime, basically stealing a huge amount of money meant for charities, had possessed the man’s form when he, like Derek, had clutched the mouse, and knowing full well what the other prisoners were like, made it so the disc would be difficult to find. He sealed it away and simply left town, heading as far away from the house as possible. He had left a few months before Derek moved in, heading abroad, not even knowing where he was going, his legacy unknown to anybody, except perhaps to the ex-prisoner who now stood in the small room of Derek’s house.

Karl turned and looked at the screen. The virtual prison cell which he had once occupied, now held Derek so that he wouldn’t open that one. The others, he could release, give them the freedom they had been denied by society’s law. He chose one at random and clicked on it. He didn’t realise that there was only one body to possess and that if he wanted the others, he would need other people to grip the mouse. His spirit or soul was taken back into the disc, and the person that had been trapped on the cell that he had clicked, possessed Derek’s form. He knew not to click on any of the icons, and stood up, examining his surroundings. He was another remorseful prisoner, an ex-gang member who once terrorised an estate and basically ‘owned’ it with his group of thugs. He was aware of the dangers of the disc. Other prisoners on the disc, who were not repentant, would, given a chance, go back to their criminal ways, and he couldn’t allow that.

Derek had been a heavy smoker, as next to the keyboard, there was a box of cigarettes and a lighter. It was the lighter he was interested in. Soon, he was walking down the stairs, only to find Derek’s wife coming out of the front room.

"Did you put that table in the loft as I asked?" she said, assuming that he hadn’t. He stood there for a few seconds, staring at her.

"Well? Are you deaf as well as daft?". He smiled inanely, then crossed to the front door and opened it.

"You might want to leave the house for a few days," he said, gesturing out.

"What?" she asked, suddenly confused.

"You might want to leave. Quite soon this place will be a shell. I decided to burn it down". He pointed to the top of the stairs where black smoke billowed across the ceiling.

"It’s up to you, In the meantime, I’ve got unfinished business to settle." He walked out of the house, his wife rooted to the spot in confusion at the altered behaviour of the supposed man she married, and the growing fire upstairs. When the smoke billowed down the stairs, she came to her senses and quickly left, mystified at these sudden changes in her circumstances. She looked frantically around for Derek, for an explanation, but he had gone, free from his virtual prison, and in a way, free from the constraints his wife had imposed, suddenly finding the confidence to walk away. Above her, dark clouds gathered a warning that soon they would unleash a torrent of rain.

Perhaps they were waiting for the house to burn down before extinguishing it. She stopped and was suddenly aware of the huge imposing building that once housed convicts that towered above her. It seemed as though the very place itself was watching her. She shivered, a chill brought on the growing air current. She hurried away, and like her husband, or indeed his shell, did not know where she was headed. Soon she would regain her senses and head for her sister’s, but in the meantime, the house slowly but surely was burnt to a crisp.

When the fire had burned itself out, partly extinguished by the driving rain, a fireman, walking through the charred remains, was puzzled as to why a compact disc had survived the inferno. He didn’t tell his superiors, but pocketed the disc, promising himself he would play it on his PC when he got home that night. He was curious as to why it said: ‘DO NOT OPEN.’

 

 

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