by Edward Wilkinson Latham

The elevator doors opened and Hugo stepped out, carrying two file boxes in his arms. He walked through reception flanked by two security guards who kept a few steps behind him. Hugo stopped when he saw that a torrential mid summer thunderstorm was battering the flower beds outside the entrance way. As his car was parked some distance from the front of the office building Hugo turned and asked the blonde and busty receptionist Michelle, whether she had an umbrella behind the desk.

“No,” she quipped without looking up, “sorry”. Both of the security guards glared at Hugo and the large bald one with cauliflower ears called Jim uttered, “I’m sorry sir, you must vacate the building immediately.” He said it with military politeness but Hugo felt he could reason with the man.

“Perhaps I could leave the boxes and go and run and get the car” Hugo suggested?

“Out! Now”, said the other security guard, a small wiry chap in his late twenties with dark hair and a moustache. Hugo looked at him. The young fella had only started last week and here he was shouting at a manager, well, former manager, to get out. Hugo summarized from the accent and narrow brow that the man was Welsh but what was more striking was that he bore an uncanny resemblance to a young Barry Mcguigan. Surely he would have been told before that he resembled the great Scottish World Featherweight Champion himself.

“I don’t suppose anyone has said you look like..”

“Barry Mcguigan?” interrupted the security guard, his mouth puckering slightly and his chest puffing out as if the very suggestion was worth a beating.

“They used to call me Barry Tash at school. I hated that name!”

“But can you punch like him?” joked Hugo, looking at an expressionless Jim, hoping to lighten the mood.

“Why don’t you try me pencil neck?” replied Barry.

“Very well”, said Hugo. The security guard immediately adjusted his feet and clenched his fists but instead Hugo backed toward the glass doors cradling his two file boxes filled with stolen stationary. The rain immediately soaked him and a large drip crept down his shirt between his shoulder blades making Hugo’s entire body shiver. Any previous care for keeping dry was quickly washed with his self-respect. He laughed as the rain drenched him, realizing that he was now out of a job, in debt and most likely facing a pending divorce. He looked back at the reception as the rain ricocheted sharply off his head, standing motionless as his suit soaked up the rain like a sponge, changing in tone from a light grey to a dark charcoal. As he stood there staring something happened. As well as the dampness reaching his underpants he felt something switch in his brain. Like a rubber band snapping, or a drop of ink hitting a glass of clear water, Hugo felt something alter in him. He squinted and lulled his head to the side briefly before looking back at the two guards who had now taken a step closer.

As they got within a few feet he yelled, “Well, up yours then!” and flung both boxes in the air. As he did, he turned quickly and ran, before the boxes landed on the marbled entranceway spilling staplers, pencil sharpeners, post-it notes, maker pens and calculators across the foyer and triggering a scream from the receptionist. As Hugo sprinted across the car park through the heavy rain, he searched in his jacket pockets for his car keys, but then realized that they were on the top of the boxes. He looked back and saw the two security guards in pursuit, both holding their large black metal torches aloft.

“Oi! Come ere” shouted the Welshman. Hugo quickly looked left and right like a startled cat heading down an alleyway, his arms out to his sides with fingers spread like tentacles, while his mind tried to decide which route to take. After some side stepping with indecision he broke left and ran towards a thick wall of spruce trees that divided Zipway Limited from Mascot Power Supplies next door, their neighbour on the Crenmore Industrial Estate. Hugo knew there was only a lawn and a few wooden picnic tables the other side of the trees, but he had not banked on how resistant the vegetation was to a sprinting two hundred pound area manager. The force of impact took his glasses clean off and Hugo frantically emerged with a struggle from the green thicket also missing his jacket and one shoe. He looked left and then right to see the security guards emerging from either side of the tree line and took off as fast as he could. Hugo sprinted across the lawn but had to briefly stop for a second to take the other shoe off because it was breaking his confident, if not exhausting pace. He took off the shoe and threw it behind towards his pursuers. Now that he was just in his socks, he ran more confidently and laughed out loud, perversely amused by his out of character actions. He then impulsively ripped off his tie and then his soaked shirt and flung them behind him. Across the lawn was a grassy bank and a row of new saplings at its edge. Hugo skidded to a halt and pulled at one of the young trees in its plastic sleeve. With a bit of a struggle he got it out of the ground by the time the security guards had caught up with him. They were panting and each held out one hand as they had been taught in training, while the other held the torch ready to strike. Hugo snarled and waved the sapling from side to side as if it was a large flaming torch. Clumps of loose earth and chalk fell to the ground exposing a tangle of soft limp roots. Hugo screamed and threw the sapling in their direction before running off again down the grassy bank. He ran so fast that his legs tripped himself up and he cart wheeled some forty feet down the remainder of the sharp incline crashing into a fence below. He quickly got up like survivors of silly accidents do despite gritting their teeth though the pain. Hugo staggered left and right like a drunk peering behind him to see if the guards were following. They were not and stood on top of the back looking down. Hugo had defiantly pulled something in his groin but still managed to clamber over the fence. As he did he scraped his stomach on the wood before falling to the ground on the other side. He lay there on the grassy verge feeling the sting of wood splinters in his skin. He turned his head round to see wheels of cars and realized he was beside the motorway. He got to his feet again and carried on running as best he could, his knees also now hurt from the fall. Hugo trotted in a peculiar looking stride past a long cue of rush hour traffic that was edging its way at snail’s speed to the turn off. A white van honked its horn as Hugo went past and a man with a shaved head poked his head out of the passenger window and shouted in a high-pitched voice, “Run Forest. Run!” Cutting across the corner of a field, Hugo saw the out of town petrol station in the distance. He was parched and would gladly drink tap water but he still had a five-pound note in his pocket and decided he wanted a bottle. The only water he usually drank from the tap was the water in his village. Built on a spring residents enjoyed some of the finest mineral water in the country, all for free, but paying for it now and again was not so bad especially after a day like his. And all those soldiers from the army base he regularly saw running on the country lanes always had bottles of water. Usually Volvic or Evian.

Hugo walked across the forecourt and went through the automatic doors. He joined the queue and waited patiently while a man bought ten scratch cards and insisted on checking them all right there at the counter. By the time he had finished, more people had joined the queue behind Hugo and he tried not to make light of the comments and reactions they gave him.

“Maybe he’s killed someone”, whispered one woman.

“It’s not normal to be missing your shirt and shoes, even in this heat,” replied a man.

“Maybe he’s continental?” offered a woman with a strong West Country accent. “You know, over here selling onions of something.”

“Doesn’t look Polish to me’” replied another man. “Maybe he’s Bulgarian. They’ve got lots of dark hair”, he continued. “I heard on Trisha that they’re the kings of child prostitution.”

They conversed amongst themselves until it was Hugo’s turn to be served and then they all stopped to listen. The Indian man behind the counter looked at the man with no shirt with suspicion, but his one week’s training had taught him to be polite, so he acted as normal as he could, trying to look into Hugo’ eyes and not at his abundant chest hair and pink limpet shaped nipples.

“Any petrol. Sir?”

"No just this water please” replied Hugo, feeling his skin cooling nicely with the air conditioning. “Will that be all sir?” the clerk uttered.

“You don’t sell shirts do you? Or even shoes might be more to the point?” Hugo’s question confused the clerk for a moment and he replied that he would ask his manager and have a look out the back. This ticked off the other people waiting in the queue and a few more grumbles erupted.

“All we have is this rubbish bag sir”, offered the clerk reemerging with a black sack. “Perhaps you can make a shirt, or shoes?” Hugo agreed that a shirt might work, but asked how he might make a pair of shoes, thinking that the man had come from a country where people had to fabricate shoes from plastic bags.

“A fine idea. Show me how,” replied Hugo enthusiastically.

“I have no idea sir.”

“Oh get out of the way you arse!” The man queueing behind Hugo had listened to enough and barged Hugo aside. This was the catalyst to give everyone else in the queue an excuse to have a go at the hairy man with no shirt and shoes.

“Go back to the circus you escaped from”, scorned a woman with red hair and small round glasses holding tightly to the hand of her young ginger son whose biopic eyes reflected his emotional discomfort and confusion at the situation.

“You buggers aren’t welcome round here, ruining the footpaths and fields with your bumey filth,” shouted a man whose flat cap and boots suggested he might be a farmer. Hugo left and went through the automatic doors carrying his bottle of water and the plastic bag looking back with confusion.

“Kiddie fiddler!” screamed a pregnant woman with long greasy hair, her voice carrying across the forecourt. Hugo had no idea why these people had been so aggressive towards him. He regularly saw builders with their shirts off in the summer. He checked back over his shoulder to see the farmer walking back to his land rover while sticking two fingers up in the air at Hugo.

“Fucking Diddies!” he shouted. Hugo walked on the grass verge towards the roundabout. As he did he tore three holes in the plastic bag and put his head and arms through. He tried tucking it into his trousers but this quickly became hot and sweaty inside. After a few minutes he wasn’t sure if the black bin bag was making him look less peculiar or more so gauged by the reactions from the passing traffic. His feet were killing him and he decided to stop and inspect them finding what he had expected. He tore off his wet and muddy socks to inspect his foot fungus, which was flourishing between his little toes. The skin had split apart and Hugo thought the fleshy wounds looked little pink vaginas. He had thought that ever since his first bout of athlete’s foot when he was eleven. He would sit on his bed after school itching his toes before they split and turn sore and he would look down to see a little pink slit looking back. Hugo pulled his toe back and forth as he did he made a high-pitched little voice.

"Hello My name is little Steve. I look like a little vagina."

He put his socks back on and got back up. He walked for a few minutes but the dry grass and weeds snagged his toes with every step and for a few meters he curled his toes under and walked like a penguin, but this only scraped the top of his toes. Beside the roundabout he decided to take off the black dustbin sack, sit down and fashion a pair of sandals. He tore off the bottom of the bag and tried shoving it down a sock to pad the sole, but it was no good. He then tried to wrap apiece around round his left foot tying it at the ankle. He then tore the rest of the bag into two pieces and bound the other foot, crossing over both pieces and tying them in a knot. They looked sort of Roman come Viet Cong with a bit of Blue Peter thrown in, but they were quite snug and gave some resistance against the softer part of his feet. He was looking at his handy work, pleased with what he could accomplish in the bush as it were, when he looked up and at that very moment he saw his next-door neighbour, Noel Fosberry driving by in his white ford Granada. Noel casually checked to his left seeing something in the corner of his eye and spied his neighbour Hugo Delany with his shirt off, sitting at the side of the road with black bags on his feet. Noel heard a car horn, looked back and his reflexes tugged at the wheel making the car swerve, narrowly missing a mini before mounting the grass verge the swerving again violently to the right, crashing back on to the road, veering across the other lane of traffic and mounting the large roundabout. The car finally stopped in front of a large flowerbed spelling out LSD in pansies. It wasn’t supposed to read LSD, but it had been changed from TSB by some creative revelers during the night for the fifth timer in a month. The air was filled with the sound of car and lorry horns. The mini had hit a lamppost and the other cars had collided.

A startled Hugo he ran away up the grass verge in his new footwear. At the top he wrestled through an untended thicket of samplings and emerged into the gardens of the Hungry Horse pub. He ran across the garden towards a collection of picnic tables occupied by couples and families. Some of the women and young children screamed when they saw Hugo coming towards them and two men got up from their seats immediately displaying fists out front, swaying rhythmically waiting for Hugo to come near. He did not and instead headed towards a gate at the other end of the garden. It leads out into a laneway lined with green garage doors. At one end a young boy had made a jump out of some blocks and a car bonnet, while a man with tattoos and a white vest looked on approvingly. Hugo started to run but the bags were getting a little hot and his feet were slipping in them slightly. He laughed out loud and this quickly turned to tears and then back to laughter again as he shuffled up the lane way. He saw a plastic bag and found that it was in fact two one in the other. He bent down and put one on each foot tying the handles around his ankles. As he did he looked up to see another and stepped over to get it adding it to the rest. He walked on, the sound if the plastic slippers making a rustling noise. Passing an open garage he saw an old black man with short grey hair sitting on a fold out deck chair. He wore a white t-shirt and a pair of faded green shorts. Beside him stood a large white empty birdcage with some torn newspaper in the bottom.

“Fly away,” he uttered and pointed a boney finger up the alley

“What breed?”

The old man looked back at him questionably, frowning and murmuring a little.

“What breed” repeated Hugo becoming a little irate? “ Macaws, Conures, Amazons, African Grevs, Cockatoos, Cockatiels, Budgerigars, Eclectus?”

Hugo’s head jerked back slightly and his eyelids fell heavily for a moment as he felt a warm ray of sun burst through the clouds and warm his face. When he opened his eyes the garage was empty. He looked around him turning in a complete circle and then walked on towards the end of the alley, wondering to himself where on earth he had thought up the names of the different birds. The only birds he knew where the ones that his wife roasted in the oven with bacon across its back and then he thought about the parrot his great aunt had when he was a child. A terrible beast that was largely bald who would lunge for your fingers and constantly uttered obscenities. Aunt Trixie would always say that she never knew where the bird, called Auguste, had learned such ‘filth’ as she called it. Hugo then only eight years, gained his entire vocabulary of swear words one summer from that bird. Before it was found dead one morning in its cage. Its legs still clinging to its perch as it swung upside down like a bat. Hugo felt his head throb and wondered if he was dehydrated like the men who are lost in the desert and see visions. He had watched a program on TV only last week, claiming that desert communities founded all three of the major religions in the world, Christianity, Judaism and Islam. The lack of water, the presenter claimed, along with the starkness of the desert landscape, were both responsible for visions and the need to worship a higher force.

“Maybe I’ve been chosen,” thought Hugo. He was not a religious man, but in the last hour a lot had changed in him. More than had occurred over the last twenty years, but he didn’t know why.

Hugo felt a chill over his body and goose bumps rose on his skin instantaneously. He looked at the ground at a stream of water ran down a drain and he listened to the gurgling sound of the drain. If he was chosen what would he preach. What was the word of god? Sure he was a Catholic but he hadn’t been to confession for over thirty years, but sometimes the chosen ones are ignorant, he told himself. A bus crossed his vision at the end of the alley way and he suddenly thought of home. He immediately set off imagining he was a Greek Olympian, his strides confidant and almost robotic. His clenched fists came up to his shoulders in timing with his breathing and he bore through the pain of his pulled muscles and bruises. He rounded the end of the alley way and saw the bus. It was a double-decker, part of the Badger line buses he always cursed at when he got stuck behind them driving to work. The white and orange paintwork was splattered up to the top in mud and splattered across the back windscreen. Nevertheless he could see a group of kids at the back of the bus mooning at cars below. Hugo increased his pace and became parallel with the back of the bus. The children stopped mooning and were now looking at the man wearing no shirt running along side the bus in the wake of a cloud of black exhaust. Hugo could see the bus stop up ahead but had no idea if it was going to stop so he kept up, his lungs punching though his chest while his throat contracted. The bus’s indicator started to blink and as it did Hugo slowed down until he came to a slow trot beside the bus. The doors opened and he grabbed on to pole, holding it tightly as the rest of his body became limp. He put one foot up and then the other and still looking down put his hand in his pocket. He still clung on tightly to the pole, whilst he heaved for breath. A line of dribble fell from his lip and hung there as he tried to extract the change from his pocket. He looked up to see a woman in the drivers seat peering at him with disgust.

“How much to Appleshaw?” grunted Hugo?

“Why haven’t you got a shirt on? And where’s your shoes?” Hugo was no interested in these woman’s questions and only thought of getting home.

“How much, woman?” he screamed.

“ Ninety pence.”

“Here, take a pound” and Hugo slapped the coin in the tray. He looked up to see the lower half of the bus packed with school children and old women with shopping bags.

“Your ticket” shouted the bus driver. Hugo turned back and tore off his ticket from the machine. The bus started and he clung on to a pole at the front of the bus. He was sweating and still trying to catch his breath while everyone sat in silence staring at him. He remained standing at the front of the bus near the driver. He hadn’t been on a bus since he was a child and wasn’t sure if there was sitting etiquette he should know about.

“Are you on the run?” James heard a woman’s voice from behind him. He turned to see a tiny old woman in a pink fluffy hat and an oversized home knit cardigan. In front of her stood a large tartan shopping bag on wheels and her small little hands rested on the handle. Her face looked as soft as goose down and as delicate as damp paper. Hugo wondered if this was another vision and leant out to prod the old woman before leaning back upright.

“No. I’m just..” Hugo paused for a second his mind vacant for any response until he muttered, “I’ve just had a nervous breakdown. I think. I made this pair of moccasins out of a bin bag.”

The woman looked at him strangely and then told him to ‘go away’, before taking her hands of her shopping trolley and holding her handbag tightly which sat on her lap.

Hugo looked back to see the driver’s eyes peering at her in the mirror and looked away feeling uncomfortable. He stood there looking at his feet warped in torn black plastic bags for a while occasionally closing his eyes. His body felt week. All he wanted to do was to get home and have a bath, climb into bed and sleep. His arm clung on to the post like a clamp while the rest of him felt like an hourglass emptying as his head and torso became limp and the feeling descended to his knees. He looked round to see that the bus had emptied apart from two sets of teenagers sitting at the back snogging. He fell into the first seat he could and shuffled himself so that he was against the window. He let his head lay against the window and despite the rumbling vibrations against his skull he instantly feel to sleep.

When he awoke the bus was turning into his road. He got up quickly and tried to press the buzzer for the stop before bt it was too late. The bus came to stop just outside the rorad leading to his house. He got off the bus and rounded the corner into Victoria Court where his house was, to see a police car waiting. Two officers, one male and one female were talking to Noel and Hugo’ wife Linda. All of them were drinking cups of tea and Hugo could see a tin of biscuits on the roof of the police cruiser. Hugo retreated slightly up the road and slipped down the side of number seventy-two on the corner and crept down their garden to where he knew there was a broken slat in the fence, which would give him a better look at what was going on. Hugo clambered over some wooden off cuts and a piece of corrugated iron and crouched down. He looked back to check if there was anyone in the number seventy-two, but he did not see their ten year old boy watching through the net curtains from the upstairs window. Hugo then turned back and spied through the gap in the fence.

“I’m sure it was him, I know it was,” said the Noel holding out the biscuit tin. "Bourbon Cream Officer?” Hugo was astonished that Noel was back already. His car looked all right but there was some turf still clinging to the bumper. Perhaps Noel was the one they wanted. Leaving the scene of an accident, ruining council owned floral arrangements. Shame they couldn’t pin the LSD episodes on him but that was too much to hope for. To Hugo's confusion, Noel was dishing out mini hob nobs and his body language suggested he was a free man. And Linda was actually laughing, but Hugo was not surprised at that.

“He’s probably floating face down in a pond somewhere,” she proclaimed, reaching for another biscuit and brushing against the officer to her delight.

“Let me madam,” said the officer intervening and holding out the tin.

“Oh you are nice aren’t you?” Linda's cheeks were flushed and she took a gulp on her tea, chewing it slightly, a habit that Hugo hated. The policeman didn’t seem to mind.

Suddenly Hugo was struck by something hot and hard in the side of his neck. He thought it might be a hornet but in the milliseconds between being struck and clasping his neck he screamed. He staggered up from his crouching position holding his neck and fell into the fence, and the entire section tipping forward against the garage behind it. Hugo fell on his side and from that position he looked up to see the young lad in the upstairs window reloading his air rifle. He heard the commotion of Noel, Linda and the policemen trying to put down their teacups and the female police officer nervously calling on her radio for back up. The next round hit Hugo in the ribs and he let out another high-pitched animal yelp. The marksman had been spotted by the constable who was screaming at the boy to put down his weapon. No one had even come to see where his victim was located and Hugo wondered if he could still get out of this situation undetected. He could get through a gap into next door’s garden, through their vegetable patch and out into the road. He got up on all fours, thinking to himself that he just might be able to do it, when the next round hit through the open gusset in his trousers, piercing his ring-piece. Hugo thrust is hand back to the offended area, arched his back and clenched his buttocks in agony, before letting out a terrible scream and falling forwards for the final time. Hugo looked up to see three heads poking around the back of the garage. The female constable reached for her walkie-talkie on her lapel and requested an ambulance and a fire engine. Noel raised his eyebrows before disappearing while Linda remained starring at her husband.

“What are you doing Hugo?” she screamed before putting her hand in front of her mouth, suppressing her inclination to either laugh or cry. By the time the firemen had removed the remaining sections of fence, all the neighbours had emerged to gork. Most of the attention was paid to the youth with the air rifle who was being put into a squad car to the protest of his mother. When Hugo was finally extracted from his predicament and placed on a stretcher he leant his head over to one side to see his neigbours all looking with frowned confusion at the black plastic bags on his feet that were pocking out from under the red ambulance blanket.