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Recluse

"Why is a journalist fearful of interviewing a famous recluse?"
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I don’t know why I am apprehensive, I must have interviewed hundreds of people, but this person for some reason causes fear to flow through me. I am Duncan Clifford, 47, a journalist working for a local free newspaper, and I am to interview Edward Mills, a famous recluse.

    I’ve never understood that, why celebrities shun the limelight. You’d think most people would crave it, yet some simply become famous without asking, whether they are the son and daughter of somebody who is already known, or have some unique talent that gets them noticed. I have noticed these days, however, that talent and being famous do not necessarily go together. Some people simply get famous without having a single ounce of talent. That’s just the way it works, and like Edward to whom fame called, they answered, and for a while, Edward was known as a scientist who took drastic measures and experimented on all kinds of biological matter.

      He cloned a horse that lived for a week, could manipulate a pregnant woman up to a month after conception into giving her a boy or girl, and even certain characteristics. He was most famous for his controversial book: ‘The future is here’, where he gave sound, logical arguments for his views on atomic energy and genetically modified farm animals, and would go onto television to talk about and defend them. Yet, as the news rolls on, and what was once breaking news was forgotten when the latest z-list celebrity was seen canoodling with somebody they shouldn’t, and a manager is sacked for mediocre results.

     The last thing, as far as I know, that Edward did as a celebrity, was a radio interview in Southend-on-Sea for the local area, and that was it. Forgotten in the news, his book relegated to one copy in retailers and charity shops. Yet, unlike other famous people who always crave attention, and fame, who badger their agent to get them work, no matter what, Edward could have carried on being a name, being known, but he chose to vanish, to retire to a Cornish bungalow 8 miles from the nearest town, overlooking the Bristol channel. He didn’t give interviews anymore, or appear in any form in any media. He was a recluse, who shut the door on fame and retired away to live on his own, out in the countryside, and for the past four years, it was how he had been living.

      Why do that, though? Why shun what most people crave? I know a lot of famous people complain about being a celebrity, about not having much privacy, about greedy producers and agents, yet still, we see their grinning faces on the television and in glossy magazines. They must all have their reasons. With a lot of people craving the celebrity lifestyle, some probably had a taste of it, decided it wasn’t for them, then ran away. It’s a fickle business is fame.

      One minute you’re loved, then you are loathed, then you are loved again, then disrespected, then tolerated, then loved again, and so on until relegated to the history books. Edward’s place there is assured, but why has he just stopped? I wonder. My boss has given me this assignment, so I will need something to show for it, even if he tells me to get off his land and slams the door, I suppose I will have to write about that.

      As I walk up the curving path, I see through the trees to my right, the calm sea, and wonder if I could just stop awhile to absorb the environment. No, I’d best continue. The path continued to wind and slope for around two miles, and I realise that it would have been simpler to build it in a straight line. Why have it bend and curve? I’ll never know, anyway, over to my right I see on a flat rough patch of grass, near a cliff edge, a set of circular ancient monoliths, like a miniature Stonehenge, with what looked to be an altar in the middle.

      I stop and stare for a while, wondering who built it and why. A place to read the stars to answer the difficult questions that could not be answered in those times because science had not yet revealed them? Or a place to worship deities whom they believed were looking down on them, listening and watching. He smiled a humourless smile. Nothing much changes, he thought and continued towards Edward’s home. After another mile, it appeared over the edge of an ascending path. A lonely looking place with tall trees behind it. Around seventy metres before its front door, and around ten from the cliff edge, was a well.

      I crossed to it and look down. It obviously hasn’t been used in a long time. I then slowly approach the front of the bungalow and find that the front door is ajar. I hesitate before knocking, then wait, stepping back subconsciously and looking at the floor like a schoolboy asking for his ball back from the back-yard. There was, however, no answer.

     He had to be around somewhere, as even out here, I knew it would not be wise to leave a place unlocked, so I waited a little longer, then took a wander around the surrounding area for a few minutes in case he was busy out somewhere, but all I saw was a hovering hawk and two large bumblebees flying around the trees behind the bungalow. So I found myself back at the front door, pushing it slowly, and calling out his name, but there was only silence that greeted me. I took a daring step across the threshold, called out again, then realised that should he appear, I was effectively intruding, so I did not call again, and came to the conclusion that he was not here.

     It seemed to be a typical bachelor pad. Shoes were scattered behind the door, and standard black and white cheaply framed prints of a yesteryear Texan farm were hung on the walls. I enter the living room and find nothing much out of the ordinary. It was certainly lived in. Clothes were strewn across the back of a sofa, and magazines were laying around.

      I didn’t pursue it any further and instead walked through into the backroom which he had converted into an office. A large desk held what was clearly an out of date computer on it as well as various papers and stationary. Around it, on all walls except near the door were shelves and shelves of books, all of them seemingly of a scientific nature. In front of the keyboard were several jars, full of white pills. Each of them was labelled with a persons name and profile which had been hastily scribbled. On the computer monitor, a post-it note had been attached.

‘Turn me on’ it said.

         I stand there for a while, simply staring at it, and then I decide to do just that. I sit down and wait for it to start up. While I was waiting, I scan around the bookshelves, wondering who on earth would write an entire book about the effects of pesticides on snow and ice, and quantum electrodynamics in the colour spectrum.

     The background picture appeared on the screen, and I can only stare as it is a photograph of myself. I am smiling at the camera, sat in a shirt and tie at another desk somewhere. Only one icon appeared, and it said: ‘Open me’. I did, and was soon reading the text that appeared:

‘Did you recognise the photograph? I expect you guessed that it was yourself. Do you know your name?’ it said. Yes, I thought, I’m Duncan Clifford, what is this? I continued: ‘Look at the jars of pills in front of you’.

     I did so, and then saw that one of the names was me, and the writing beneath it mentioned that he was a journalist who died in a motorway crash.

‘Yes’, it continued. ‘You are Edward Mills, the man you were to interview, and you have taken the pill that gave you the mind of Duncan Clifford. You have shut yourself away out here to pursue research into your next experiment. Obviously, people won’t understand, and the moral police will have voiced their protest before they thought about it, so with your access to the local hospitals and to their morgues, you could cut out victims brain matter, and introduce and mix them with certain chemicals to form them into pills, and when you took them, you would have the mind and memories of whomever pill you had taken. Taken to its potential, you will come out of hiding and have them sold in shops as personality pills. You will write another book about it, and fame shall be yours again. However, the experimentation is not yet complete. There is a jar of red pills without a label, and they are to restore your mind back to who you are, Edward Mills’.

      I stared at the jar for a few moments, wondering if this was real, so I took time away from the room to see if I could find any other photographs of myself, and I did. There were not many, but I returned and with a nervous hand reached forward and took the jar of red pills, unscrewed it and took one out. I did not hesitate to take it, and the effect was immediate. With a tearing thunderstorm of a migraine ripping through my mind, I collapse to the floor, and feel as though I am being electrocuted. It then subsides after around a minute, and then I remember.

      I stand up and look down at the desk, at the jars of tablets, at the screen, but I know something hasn’t quite clicked back into place. My mind is not as it was. Yes, I am Edward Mills, and I feel as though I have around 80% of my mind back, the other 20% is a confused mess culminating in a throbbing ache, a state of paranoia and stress. I rush out into the kitchen and look down at the large syringe on the draining board I used to extract my own brain matter, and subconsciously put my hand to my left eye, above which through the eyelid was a direct route to the brain. There was still a small amount of fluid left.

      Within the turmoil inside my mind, elements of Duncan’s memories remain. I see more white pills, a glass of water, then darkness. I stagger towards the front door of my house, but it’s not really where I want to go, as Duncan’s percentage of my psyche is in semi-control of my movements. I want to go and take more red pills but I find myself outside, walking towards the well, and I see another memory. I see a rope, a noose, a wooden chair, a collapsing wooden chair and then the concrete floor.

      Duncan, in his life, had made two suicide attempts, and I see now what he is doing to me. I fall against the well, resisting the urge to climb over, but he is too strong-willed, and as I fall over the edge and disappear into the darkness, my mind is still not fully balanced. Why am I not screaming? Why do I have no fear? and during the 250 foot, three-second fall onto jagged rocks, I wonder if anybody will find me at all, take the red pill, and continue my work.

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