Arthur wandered along the empty halls of a long forgotten and empty building, the moon casting strange shadows through the cracked glass roof. His footsteps sounded heavily around him, the mixture of heavy marble tile and mostly enclosed space sending the noise in each direction before bouncing it back toward him. It was an eerie place, one he wished never to visit. But this building, so said his mentor, was important.
Arthur checked once again the strange pocket watch his mentor had pressed into his hands before sending him on his way. ‘Watch’ was probably too kind a term for it, for in no way that Arthur knew could he possibly tell the time on this thing. It did have hands that moved, at least six of them he had counted so far, and there were symbols at distinct intervals around the face, but they were neither numbers or of a number to help tell time as he knew it. In truth in the months it had taken him to reach this place he had thought often of dumping the ‘watch’ and his mission, but he had promised his mentor he would come here and complete the work. If only he knew what that was.
As he looked upon the watch a flutter of movement caught his eye, enough to make him look up and stare upon the face of a man he could swear he once knew yet at the same time knew was impossible. As impossible as the fact anyone else would be here. The reality, of course, was that no one else was here, at least not here and now. He watched as the man reacted to a sound only he could hear, a look of fear and anger flashing briefly across his face. The man pulled out a pocket watch, scratched his head, then muttered to himself,
“The train shouldn’t be running at this hour…”
The man who was not here ran off down the concourse. Arthur knew he should follow yet found his feet unwilling to move. His mentor had not told him much, the delusions taking him much quicker than any imagined, yet he did know that by walking the path he had agreed to his mentors fate would one day be his own. Arthur had no idea if fate could be avoided, but he had watched a brilliant and agile mind become riddled with fear and fear before it emptied its self completely. He had no desire to live that fate, and if walking away could save him why would he not?
Had his mentor had these thoughts? It was a sobering thought, especially to consider that he had but walked the path anyway. Other people often whispered of his mentor as a hero, a balance in a war beyond comprehension. Arthur was now, potentially, that balance. To walk away now could save him, or maybe not. Walking away could destroy the world, or be proof that his mentor was mad all along. So in Arthur’s mind it came down to a simple question; did he believe his mentor was mad?
His feet answered before his mind did and he found himself sprinting down the concourse after the impossible man. As he followed he knew the man to be a conductor, but of what he had no clue. Yet he did, Arthur did know. He knew this place and he knew this man, or at least he would come to know it. He stopped dead, his mind catching himself in the same vaults and traps his mentor had spiralled around towards the end. The question was not was his mentor mad, but was he?
The answer to his question came quickly in the form of over one hundred dancing crabs, all wearing a mixed medley of hats and singing and dancing to a tune he did not know and could not hear. It was an impressive, if silent, show. The finale was set around a pirate ship, each crab in turn swapping their hat for one a pirate would wear. Although he could not hear it, and crabs didn’t have the best facial expression to communicate emotional nuance, he knew this last number to be a sad one. As the music no doubt built up to a fantastic crescendo, the final line of the song burst through from wherever it was and into his mind…’they were all called Captain Crab Sparrow’.
As quickly as the show started it ended. He wondered if there was some deep meaning in his vision, some ray of hope to a clue that would mean he was not mad. He wondered if his vision and his story was one so confusing and convoluted that maybe it could win a BAFTA. He dreaded that his story may have come from the mind of some deranged writer who took ideas from a chatter of people he had never truly met. He knelt to pray and farted. As the noise reverberated around the large concourse he knew this was no BAFTA winning piece of writing. He hoped he was mad.
As he rose this his feet he saw the conductor waiting for him. Even though Arthur knew the conductor could not see him or know he was there, it was obvious that he was waiting for him. As he walked closer to the conductor he saw the visage of a ghostly train, one he knew he was to ride. On the plus side, it seemed he would not be travelling alone. The platform he stepped onto was awash with people, none of which shared the same time and or space. Yet he could see that as they boarded the train they suddenly did. With a comforting smile from the conductor he boarded the train.
Everything changed as he did. What was once a ghost of a train was a very real and very fancy thing. The chatter of the people, their smells and their heat, the rumbling movement of the train; all of it was real. He felt the strange ‘watch’ in his pocket vibrate a little so he reached in and grabbed it, it’s face now clearly saying the number 1107. The once impossible conductor looked at the number, nodded that Arthur should follow, and headed towards the front of the train, stopping in front of a cabin door, 1107.
Arthur opened the door and groaned; no one liked Matthew McConaughey, but there he was. Where once Arthur believed maybe this was the train to heaven, now it could only be the express train to hell. Or maybe it was his own hell? Still, above all else Arthur was an English man, and even on his last possible trip he would not allow a huge disappointment like McConaughey hurt his manners.
“Good day Mr McConaughey, it seems we are to be cabin mates on this voyage.”
“Alright, alright, alright” came the far too predictable reply.
As the conductor took to leave Arthur stopped him to ask if this train had a bar or restaurant car. The conductor nodded and pointed even further in front. Arthur thanked the conductor and left his cabin. It was a real shame when Matthew followed him.
The bar car was a hive of activity and chatter. Drinks flowed, cigars were smoked, vulgar stories of conquests were shared. It was a heady night that Arthur indulged in with passion. He knew the ‘watch’ was trying to get his attention, but with every drink drunk and every tale told he cared less and less for the annoyance in his pocket. Far too soon the conductor came and blew his whistle, bellowing orders for everyone to return to their rooms.
As the whiskey wore off and Winston Churchill quotes flooded in to take it’s place, Arthur wondered if he would actually fight them on the beaches? It was a strange thought, one he knew was not his own. Someone, or something, was trying to get his mind back. As his world spun he could see the cracks, the lies of it all, or was he just hammered? As he drifted off to sleep he heard the soothing tones of his cabin mate.
“Alright, alright, alright.”
A moving pain in his pocket woke him. He knew he must be still, for if they knew he was awake they would fool him once more. He heard many voices, or was it two? One was McConaughey, the other was lost on him. He had woken to hear an end of a conversation.
“…but god damn it that donut was delicious” said the voice he did not know.
“Alright, alright, alright” said the one he did.
He wondered why the ‘watch’ had been so keen to wake him then but he did not know. What he did know is that he had to move. That he had to be on this train he knew was right, yet he also knew that where it was going was not his destination. He crept out of his cabin unnoticed, amazed at how the once fancy and lush looking train now looked tired and worn. Not only worn but vandalised, for starting from outside his room and along the wall towards the back of the train were strewn pictures of squirrel after squirrel.
Losing track of what he was thinking he followed these squirrels along the cars of the train. He followed the trail along more cars and corridors than the train could possibly have. He followed those squirrels through hours, days, weeks, months, seasons and year. He followed those squirrels as his muscles weakened, his hairs turned white and his vision faded. He followed those squirrels through his youth, past visions of his mother, his father, his pets, his lovers, his death, his mentor.
He followed them to a door, not sure he was even on the train anymore. The door was locked, but he knew the ‘watch’ was the key. This was his decision, the last he was sure he could make freely. The train was a lie, the train was his madness. He knew deep down his mentor was on this train somewhere, knew somehow that he had decided to stay on this train. If Arthur put the ‘watch’ in the lock, his fate would be sealed, but so would it be if he did not. The train was madness, so the door was sanity? It could only be so. Arthur placed the ‘watch’ in the lock and watched as ‘watch’, lock and door vanished.
If this was sanity he missed madness. Before him stood two figures, both female but not human, at least not fully. One shouted as the other swung something around. As this new world became clearer to him he could hear the panic in their voices, the clatter of claws, and the screeching of a cat.
“…stop slapping things with your pussy and you’ll get fewer crabs!” One figure shouted to the other.
In a burst of noise and colour a faded memory became his world once again. This was an island, an island broken by magic and mended by science. This was an island, small and unknown, yet so important. This was an island he had not stepped foot on since he was a child. This was the island where it all began. He walked towards the figures, knowing they would turn to mist; all save the cat.
“Hello Mr Fluffy” Arthur said.
“Meow” replied the cat.
He sat next to the cat, a pet from long ago. The cat nestled in his lap, and they both sat and watched as time moved at it’s normal pace. They sat and watched for hours, days, week, months, seasons, years, decades, millennia. Both moved little in that time, save Mr Fluffy to hunt the occasional mouse and parade it around as some hard fought trophy.
They sat and they waited until the boat Arthur had been waiting for arrived. He rose and waved, and from the ship poured a waterfall of sailors. He watched as the salty sailors swam smoothly through the silky sea, creating a bridge between him and the boat. It was a strange and unnerving feeling to walk along a bridge made of living flesh, one Mr Fluffy seemed not to share. As he stepped foot on deck the sailors came back aboard and the ship sailed one once more.
For days Arthur paced the decks of the ship, watching as rocks, islands, continents, planets, moons, stars, galaxies and universes flashed by. It was a calm and pleasurable cruise, one he was glad he could take with Mr Fluffy. As the ship docked at its final port of call and Arthur disembarked, the world went black.
Arthur wandered along the empty halls of a long forgotten and empty building, the moon casting strange shadows through the cracked glass roof. His footsteps sounded heavily around him, the mixture of heavy marble tile and mostly enclosed space sending the noise in each direction before bouncing it back toward him. It was an eerie place, one he wished never to visit. With a jolt, he remembered this place; but not what it was for, or how he got here. All he could hear was the pitiful mewing of a cat.
He followed that mewing far outside of the building he had found himself in, coming to a hill overlooking a vista of large open fields and early evening sky. He sat down atop the hill. With all the heat on this early fall night, the Frenchman thought back to how this all started with one question; ‘Would a crab wear a top hat or a bowler?’ No, wait, that wasn’t right; they were all Captain Crab Sparrow, and by god he was no Frenchman! He put his hands into his pocket, but there was nothing there. There should be something there.
Through the silence of the night he heard the mewing. He worked his way down the hill, Mr Fluffy meeting him halfway. This wasn’t the first time Mr Fluffy had brought Arthur something it had hunted, but it was the first time it was begging for its life. Out of kindness Arthur took the prize from Mr Fluffy and broke its neck, its final words a pitiful ‘Alright, alright, alright’.
Arthur glanced behind him as the early morning sun peaked over the ridge, shimmering in the multicoloured facets of early dawn. Breathing a deep breath of the breaking dawn air he turned his attention back to the task at hand and the vast spread of field he now knew to contain a fulls day work ahead of him.
“Get ready for spring” a whispering echo ticked his ears.
He looked around, his mentor standing behind him, in his hands a strange pocket watch. But this was not his mentor, not as he remembered him. Arthur wondered if the mentor was him, this whole thing a delusion of his own making as he slips into the icy grasp of dementia. He wondered if maybe he was some character killed off on some soap opera but was being brought back with some implausible ‘in the shower’ plot device? He wondered if he was god, for what man hasn’t. He knew dementia would get him the BAFTA, but he knew that was lame. Somehow this whole thing could be made to make sense, and the ‘watch’ was part of it, the train was part of it, the crabs were part of it. No, the crabs were the key! He was a crab!
He was Captain Crab Sparrow!