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Death of a Management Consultant

This is another very old one, pulled from the archives of 1999. Still, it really could do with a polish in some areas, but I have a real soft spot for it:

It is odd what the mind notices when it is trying to forget a hangover. The bed being full of blood, for instance. That's always a good one, it'll bring you right on back to sobriety pretty damned quick. That said, however, it's probably not the healthiest way to start your day. Especially if it was a day on which you intended on giving up smoking. Or coffee. You say "coffee"? Sit down, son, when the world starts messing with your head like that you're going to need one real soon.

There are, as we know, rules for surviving a hangover. Don't go too near large plates of shiny food, don't put on loud music to cheer you up, don't look up or move your head around too much. Unless you want to feel your brain slide like a hot, greasy ball around the inside of your skull, the last one is of paramount importance. You should also try not to put your hand in large pools of clotting blood. It's never going to make life any easier.

"Shit!"

It is possible to enjoy the millisecond of anonymity when you wake up in the mornings. That moment when you have absolutely no idea who you are or where you are. Every morning you could wake up to be a princess on a magical island, or a dinosaur or a wizard of immense power. Most mornings however, you just turn out to be you. Ian should have savoured that moment. He loved that moment, never knowing what the future held because he didn't know what the present held. Yes sir, taking all that into consideration, it was definitely the blood that ruined it.

The bed he certainly recognised, something deep and primal within him knew that it was his. The rest of the room seemed vaguely familiar as well, familiar enough to be his, which would at least save him the question of why his bed was in someone else's room. This raised certain questions. Was he some sort of serial rapist and killer? Was his tortured conscience responsible for the whisperings and mutterings of his dreams? And then there was a new one. Was the blood his?

Ian had always found his scrotum vaguely disturbing. The idea that evolution could create glands vital for the reproduction of the race that didn't function properly at body temperature, and then decide to store them at the height at which a well-placed kick reaches its highest velocity had always seemed to him excessively perverse. He was, nevertheless, more than feasibly relieved on finding that the contents of his underpants were still intact. A swift examination of the rest of his body, without moving more than could be helped, convinced him that wherever it had all come from, it was not his body.

A shower was probably in order, a shower and a cigarette. As his brain muttered into action, it took his brain a while to convince him that these activities would have to remain separate. A tonne of something heavy and, quite literally, phlegmatic smashed against his eyeballs as he began to move. This was not going to be easy. Keep your head down, point yourself towards the shower, and trust your legs to do the rest.
Mental note: examine why legs are not functioning when back in sitting position. Rethink whole morning given new and unexpected criteria. Ponder the validity of lying on the floor as a lifestyle choice. Dribble. Find dribbling hugely satisfying. Feel like an achiever. Dribble some more.

The floor provides an interesting perspective. It is probably indicative of something deep in human nature that we spend the most powerless years of our lives, and yet those at which we assimilate and process most about our world, crawling and dribbling on the floor. Sherlock Holmes could discover traces of distinctive Arabian tobaccoes from sniffing the carpet. An entire World War was fought inching very slowly through the mud. It was whilst on the floor that Ian spotted the piece of paper.

It was crumpled into a ball under his bed. Ordinarily, he would have known it was unimportant. Ordinarily, he would have ignored it. However, there was still the matter of the blood.

It would, of course, take a gargantuan, almost superhuman, effort to reach it. As he extended his hand, he heard bits of his shoulders split, and wondered if alcohol could melt cartilage. The only alternative to this would have been to have moved his body slightly, but he had a premonition that this would cause more problems than it would solve.

At last his fingertips pinched the paper, and dragged it across the floor towards him. Victory was his!

Gingerly, desperate at all costs to avoid possibly fatal movements of the neck, he smoothed the paper on the carpet. It was from the pad he kept next to his bed, one with inspiring mottoes for the day inscribed at the top. This one read: "The only person who can change your destiny is you". No arguing with that, he thought, as he tried to decipher what was scrawled beneath. God, the handwriting was awful. "Do". The first word was definitely "do".

Do NOT go to the p

Well, that didn't make any sense at all. "The p"? What was that meant to mean? It was utterly ridiculous. The police? That hadn't even occurred to him yet. "Yes, good morning officer. I was just calling to let you know that I found my bed full of blood this morning. No, no I don't know whose it was, I just thought I'd ring and implicate myself in a crime which I don't know has occurred. No, no, apart from that I'm fine, and your good self?" There was no danger of that, then.
The park? Party? Printers? Peter Purdue? Probably best to ring in sick, anyway. He doubted that the partners of Peter Purdue and Associates would be hugely impressed with his arriving late and covered in blood. Unless, that is, they thought that it smacked of a daring new approach to management consultancy. It could happen.

Personal trainer? He didn't even have a personal trainer. Still, best to avoid them for the day. Cigarettes, however, were definitely necessary, and by the looks of the empty packet he saw lying by the door, he was going to have to straighten himself out enough to go and get some. It was a time of strife, indeed.
It was on his way to the newsagent that his mobile phone rang.

"Karen. Hello."

"Ian, where are you?"

"Karen, I feel like death."

"So you're not coming in, why is that not a surprise?"

"If I could I would, you know that…"

"Are you still coming to the show tonight? Malcolm's got everyone tickets."

"Yes I'll be there."

"And to the knees-up afterwards?"

"I should think so."

"Good. Alison and Jane are really looking forward to seeing you there."

"I'll be there."

"So, I can definitely tell everyone you're coming to the play and to the party at Petra's after? Ian? Ian? Are you still there? Don't try and wriggle out of it now, Ian. Ian?"

"I…sorry…goi…thro..a tunne…"

"Ian, are you on a train? Ian, I can hear the cars in the background. Where are you?"

The only answer was to hang up, so that's exactly what Ian did. He blamed it on not having had a cigarette yet. How could anyone expect him to act like a reasonable human being, feeling like he did?
But the paper shop was in view now, he could get some cigarettes and…He stopped. That was an unexpected turn of events. Paper shop. This could throw things considerably out of whack He was in serious need of assistance. Where was a boy-scout when you wanted one? Ah, here came a vicar, he'd do. Man of the cloth and all that, Good Samaritans, don't you know.

"Excuse me, father, I wonder if you could help me?"

He was short, stout, and exceedingly ruddy. Just the sort of chap one needed for this sort of assignment. Full of the milk of h.k, to be sure.

"Yes, what is it?"

"I was wondering if you could go in there and buy me twenty Marlboro Lights?"

This seemed to confuse him somewhat, but Ian couldn't afford to let this prime candidate for helping him through his current metabolic and existential crisis slip through his fingers. For a split second, he wondered if thinking about clergy slipping through your fingers was heretical.

"I'll give you the money, it's very important."

"Oh. Oh, well, I see. Yes, yes, of course."

As he gave him the money, Ian wondered if this was all an elaborate scam, set up for the purpose of robbing him of £4.25. It seemed a little excessive. His fears were dispelled when the vicar returned, bearing the white and gold packet that heralded the beginning of the end of Ian's hangover. Get the blood pumping.

"You seem a little distressed, is there anything I can do?"

"I…no, no."

"Are you sure, I'm a very good listener?"

"Well…" It might do him good. Put the whole thing in a little bit of perspective. Although he wasn't really sure what sort of perspective a bed full of blood and cryptic notes could be put in.

"Come on, I'll take you for a drink. "The King's Head"?"

"Yes, that would be…No, sorry. I can't go in there."

"Oh, I quite understand, the music's always far too loud. How about "The Admiral's Plum"?

"No, no, I can't go in there, either. It's a pub, you see, it's a pub."

The vicar paused for a minute, a mixture of amusement and suspicion playing across his little eyes, before he smiled.

"Quite. Vile places. Dens of iniquity, that's what I always say. Not always, of course, but whenever they come up in conversation. I've got some Scotch at the Manse, if that's any help."

The idea of spending the day with this little man solving his problems was appealing to Ian more and more. He wondered if it was all right to confess things you hadn't done yet, and then to go and do them. Strictly theoretically speaking, obviously.

"Yes, that would be lovely."

Nothing much was said on the short walk to "The Manse", Ian being utterly preoccupied with the fact that his first contact with organised religion since he was twelve was going to involve scotch, and his short, round friend seemingly fully concentrated on whistling Ravel's "Bolero". As he walked up the short path through the overgrown garden to the vicar's door, Ian found himself pondering the sharp corner his life seemed to have turned. He imagined that, perhaps, if he took more days off work, he might have more thoroughly stimulating and surreal experiences like this one. Still, with his average of about three days off a week, anyway, it might be wise not to push it.
As he peered into the musty hallway, full of stuffed animals and what appeared to be pornographic pottery, he was ushered into a small drawing room.

"Welcome to my humble et cetera. Do sit."

"Do you mind if I…?"

"No, no, not at all. There's an ashtray to your left. Yes, that lovely little lady's pudenda. Push her head and the butts drop down below. Lovely little piece, that, picked it up in…I forget now, somewhere hot. Bournemouth, I think."

"Would you care for a cigarette?"

"No, I should probably just smoke it," He giggled a little. "Sorry, just my little joke. I'm much more partial to a pipe, myself. Has a much more leisurely air, to my way of thinking. People are always in such a hurry, these days. They don't take the time to enjoy anything properly. Not even a nicotine addiction. Sorry, listen to me babbling on, and I don't even know your name."

"Ian."

"Ian. Right then, Ian, is Glenfiddich all right?"

"Fine yes."

"Lovely."

He produced, as if from nowhere, two cut-glass tumblers and a full bottle of scotch.

"So, what do you do when you're not avoiding newsagents and public houses?"

* * * * *

"And the best thing is, they didn't notice until they got home"

The vicar roared with laughter, as Ian tittered into his glass. Now, this was a way to cure a hangover. A couple of drinks with a stranger with an inexhaustible repertoire of jokes about the female anatomy and a ridiculous collection of porcelain erotica.

"You must excuse me. As you may understand, I don't get many chances to indulge my joint passions of hard liquor and ribald anecdotes very often."

As they coughed the tail-ends of their laughter, Ian looked at his watch. Bloody hell, they'd been drinking for almost eight hours. No wonder the sun was going down.

"You don't strike me as a very ordinary type of vicar."

"Oh I'm not. A vicar. I'm a minister. Low church, you see. Very different. Not so much incense and rosaries, as coffee mornings and worship songs. Not allowed hymns any more, apparently the young prefer Christian rock. Or so I'm told."

He really should head off soon. He'd miss the beginning of the play. Not that he should go, but he didn't really care any more. Sitting here, however, seemed like an immensely beneficial plan. He was being looked at. Not that he minded. Being looked at across a table full of curios of the anatomically dubious was not about to disturb him now. He really did like this guy. He was just really nice…

"Why did you become a management consultant?"

"For absurd amounts of money. Why did you become a vi…a minister?"

"For much the same reason."

"Oh, does it pay much?"

The minister smiled to himself. That's why he liked him, he thought everything was amusing. Nothing really troubled him, you could see the little ironies dancing in front of his eyes as he talked. He could show you that there was nothing to be frightened of. Lots to laugh at, but nothing to be frightened of.

"Heavens, no. I just mean that I saw too many people in the world whose sole motivation was money. And not even money, necessarily, just a feeling that the world was too horrible to deal with, and that they would be happiest if it would just leave them alone to get on with things. I hoped that I might be…might be an antidote, I suppose you might say, to some of that."

"Oh." said Ian, eloquently, he had a feeling that he had touched a nerve. Which was fine in its own way: he could let his mind swim in its stupor without having to come up with responses particularly often. He did realise that they would have to be, at some point, of a slightly higher calibre than "oh", but knew that he could cross that bridge when he came to it.

"Too many people walking by on the other side, as it were. Not wanting to hear about the poor, the homeless, the old; they just become part of the problem that is the outside world, and that doesn't concern me. Do you see?"

Ian wasn't sure that he did.

"Yes."

"Because I think the world is a wonderful place, full of tragedy and comedy. A bit like a roller coaster you can't get off, which, I suppose, some people find disturbing. We are trained to believe that what is sanitised and safe is best, rather than to love the vibrancy and excitement that is all around us, and I think that's a bit of a shame."

"Well, yes." Ian was aware that the time for him to say something intelligent was probably fast approaching, and leaned inwards, so that he might catch any hint of something he could respond to.

"We only get one go at life, you see, and I think, well, I know that it won't have been for nothing if we all spend a little time thinking and doing something about that."

"So you don't believe in an afterlife, then?" OK, so it was a huge logical leap, but it would be bound to gain Ian another few minutes of torpor.

"Oh yes. Yes, I'm pretty sure that I do; but I also know that we've got to make the best of this one. I hate to be proven wrong at the best of times, and to be so in this instance, having done nothing in the previous life in expectance of a better one later on would make me rather sick. Too many people just accept what life throws at them, and it's such a shame. They don't ask questions, or expect answers. And I'm not sure we should expect answers, but surely the very search for them is what makes us people? As opposed to robots or jellyfish." The minister's eyes shone as he leaned forward in his chair.

"Yes. Yes, I see"

The minister leaned forward to pour Ian another drink. The last of the amber fluid formed a drip around the rim of the neck of the bottle, and hung there stubbornly.

"Blast! I shall have to get us some more, I'll just pop down the street, hang on."

With surprising speed, the little man was on his feet, and before Ian could protest intelligibly had slammed the door behind him. Ian looked slowly around him and smiled contentedly. There was very little that could have disturbed his peace at this moment in time. There was almost nothing that could have induced him to move from his chair or his reverie. But then, the demands of an over-anxious bladder are seldom within the realm of ordinary factors. Who knows what battles may have been won or lost over an extra glass of wine with lunch?
Ian looked at the bottle, in a desperate attempt to take his mind off the growing pressure in his abdomen, well aware that in so doing, he was liable to increase its exquisite agonies. He must have drunk an awful lot, he thought, the bottle had been new when he arrived, hadn't it?

The mind of the drunk is often derided. Drunkenness is seen as inducing unnatural lusts, needs and irrational behaviour. What is often neglected is that these are but the symptoms of a mind functioning with extreme rationality and honesty, a mind that has seen through the irrationality of the boundaries set by society. Thus singing pop hits at three in the morning is performed because it is likely to make the protagonists feel better than they were feeling. Telling a loved one that one has always found them utterly detestable is merely an expression of sentiments that have coloured a relationship for years. In this way, Ian's thought of urinating into a potted plant can be seen as an entirely rational one. He accepted that he was drunk, and that he was in a house he didn't know; he accepted that his bladder was reaching critical mass; and he accepted that, were one to wee on a plant, the plant would benefit from the nutrients, and he would feel more comfortable. It was unfortunate for Ian, then, that he was not drunk enough to do the bidding of the rational being that lived inside the scotch, and instead pottered out of his chair to find the WC.
Unfortunate, because almost as soon as he walked into the hallway, which had five, or was it six?, doors coming off it, he realised that he should have tied a piece of string to the door-handle, something to let him know whence he had come. And the spinning didn't help either. Neither did the fact that this door appeared to lead into a hall very much like the one he had just left. Probably best just to slump through the first door he came to and lie there groaning until he was found.

By some miracle of fate, this door happened to lead to the very facility for which he was looking. It stood there, gleaming, as he unzipped his flies like a knight who has found the Grail. When Fortune smiles on us, her favours are very rarely restricted. She showers us with all sorts of blessings, and Ian found that, with her help, he was able to keep a large proportion of his outpourings within the limits of the bowl. With his hand against the wall, he sighed the sigh of the truly happy, and waggled a satisfactory conclusion out of an event that had promised to be so fraught.

Coming out, he felt his vision and purpose to be clear. He must, quite simply, stride back to where he had been, and sit as if nothing had occurred. And there was the door out of which he had come, he would recognise that door anywhere. Firm of body and mind, he turned the handle and entered.

Irony is a device much loved of dramatists. To be the protagonist in a Greek play must be one of the most awful fates in the world. No sooner has one vanquished all foes, and come to greater glory than ever before, than some crippling tragedy is discovered beneath the carpet, some gigantic irony drops on your head, as a warning to all who would hubristic be. It goes without saying, then, that Ian did not find the drawing room behind that door. No comfortable armchairs there, no warm bottle of whisky, no print of a young lady disturbingly endowed by nature.

No, behind this door was something altogether different. It was large, covered in tarpaulin, and appeared to have too many corners. It was also humming gently. Ian lifted the edge of the tarpaulin and looked beneath, but still the object made no sense. He stood back up, and pulled the edge of the sheet back, only to see a peculiar mechanical device, that appeared to be constructed of many scientific calculators. Today really had made no sense whatsoever.

"You've discovered my little hobby, I see."

It wasn't the surprise that made Ian fall over, indeed, the less generous might apportion blame to the alcohol he had consumed, but fall over he did.

"Oh, I'm terrible sorry, I didn't mean to…"

"That's quite all right." The ruddy little man did not seem in the least put out by Ian's obvious prying into things he knew not the wot of. As a rule of thumb, if something is covered in a tarpaulin, it is best to turn around and walk very slowly away. "Would you like a steak sandwich?"

"Pardon?"

"A steak sandwich, I realised I hadn't been a very good host, and was forcing you to drink on an empty stomach. Would you like a steak sandwich?"

"Yes. Yes please. That would be lovely."

"Follow me, and excuse my unsteadiness. You should have seen the look I got from the girl in the shop, you'd think she'd never seen a minister of religion obviously blind drunk and demanding more booze before."
As Ian righted himself and followed the minister out of the room, it occurred to him that this had obviously not been the right door to open, and only a fool and a charlatan would have ever claimed it was.

"Got lost did you? Answering a call of nature?"

"Yes, yes I did." Surely they had just turned left three times.

"Sorry about the state of the kitchen."

"What kitchen?"

"This one." The little man led him into a sweltering orgy of aromas. Pans were piled high on every available surface, and remnants of food were scattered around. The whole, however, gave an overwhelming impression of large amounts of food, eaten very often, and Ian's stomach threatened to eat some of his other bodily organs if he didn't get down to some serious eating very soon.

"You see, that's exactly what I'm talking about."

"What is?" Ian did not wish to talk. He wished to eat, and he wished to eat now. Talking was for girls and Communists.

"You've no idea how many people have seen my little project, and been to embarrassed to ask what it is. Pretended nothing has happened. They don't want to be thought nosey, so they will go to their graves not knowing what it is I've got in there. Which is a shame." The minister here opened what turned out to be a refrigerator and brought out two sizeable chunks of cow.

"Life confronts them with a startling situation and, rather then revel in its novelty, they try to expunge it from their personal history. Many of them probably don't remember ever having seen it now, because they relegated it to a corner of their minds marked 'Best Forgotten'. Mushrooms?" He placed the slabs onto a grill pan, the base of which seemed to be made entirely from the brown, hardened grease of dead things, and pulled a frying pan from a counter next to him. He noticed Ian was standing and waved him to a stool next to him. "Mushrooms?"

"Oh. Yes, please."

"And you're not planning on breaking the trend."

"Of mushrooms?"

"Of pretending it wasn't there."

"Um. Yes?"

The little man gave him a large grin, and began to chop some pointed mushrooms with a large cleaver.

"I'm an amateur scientist, you see. A dabbler. I like to dabble. I see the mysteries and wonders of the world, and all I can do is poke my fingers into them. There's so much to learn, so much at which to gasp. It just upsets me that so many people never get to see it. You don't see the stars unless you lift up your head to look at them. So many people never look up." He scooped a large pat of butter from a pair of beings who appeared not to have any qualms about copulating on his kitchen surfaces.

"So what is it, exactly, this machine?"

The minister gave a loud cry, and clapped his hand on Ian's back. This was not entirely welcome, as the hand appeared, in the process of preparing food, to have accumulated a shiny patina.

"That's my boy! Always assume you have the right to know! How do you like your steak?"

"Medium rare."

"Medium rare. Again, it displays a lack of faith in yourself. Have the courage of your convictions. Medium rare is neither one thing nor another."

"It's just how I like my steak."

"Far be it from me to inflict the bleeding flesh of a mutilated animal on anyone."

"So what is it?" Ian began to grow impatient. He wasn't exactly sure how he got here any more.

"Filet. I like the texture."

"The machine, what is it?"

"Ah, that. Brown sauce, ketchup, mayonnaise?"

"Do you have any Worcester Sauce?"

"Of course, dear egg, never be afraid to ask. It's a time machine."

And Ian looked at the cleaver, and looked at the merry man humming as he cooked, and realised that this was the point in the day where he should make a run for it, or be horribly butchered. Damn these insane vicars and their fiendishly clever murder plots! Keep calm, and stay aware until you're near the front door.

"I see. Does it work?"

"Worryingly, yes."

"I see. Actually, don't worry about the sandwich, I've really got to get going."

"Mein fruit, it's already ready." His face dropped. "Oh, I see. You think I'm insane. A nut bar, as our American cousins would say."

"No, really, I've just got a lot to do."

"Yes, I quite understand. You've probably got to get back to your personal pad, go to the pub with a few pals, maybe get to a party in a park. Am I right?"

Suddenly, Ian wasn't going anywhere.

"Just stay for a couple of minutes to get some food inside you, and have another scotch. I'll explain the principle to you, and then you can run screaming to the local constabulary, and have me thrown into fruit bowl, all right?" He began to ladle the mushrooms onto the steak, and place a piece of fresh granary bread on top. He proffered it to Ian, with a hopeful look. "Friends?"

"Yes. Yes, of course."

"You see, time is just another one of those things, like etiquette or the economy, which we have made up. Utterly unnatural concepts, by which I mean that you don't find them anywhere in nature. We invented them, am I right?"

As he bit into the sandwich, and felt the meat give beneath his teeth and butter dribble down his chin, Ian felt a wave of peace flow over him. The man might be crazy, but he could make a damned good sandwich.

"Well, no. But do go on."

"We invented these things. And they helped us get to where we are today, they allowed us to become more efficiently productive human beings. We created these concepts to make our life easier, but we have forgotten that, by their nature, these concepts should be discarded when they cease being useful to us. Yes?"
Ian mumbled "I think so. Yes." His whole body was becoming warm and lovely as he ate.

"Good. When these concepts fail to serve our purposes we shouldn't be in thrall to them. After all, we invented them, and we can always invent something better. Or could, if we believed we could.

"You know, it really annoys me when people say 'We had to deprive these people of their livelihoods. It's because of the economy, don't you know.' The economy is something we invented to help us swap things with each other. If it's making people unhappy, surely, we should make a new one. Am I making sense?"

"I think so. But you'd need to get…well, to organise something so…"

"We're humans! We've built pyramids in the middle of the desert, we've launched ourselves into outer space. The only things we can't do are the things we believe we can't do! And time is another of those things. So why can't we change it if we will?"

"But surely time…"

"Is just a way of looking at things. It's only one step from saying 'Why on earth do I have to do this at nine? Who says nine is a better time than eleven, or twelve, or four in the afternoon? Am I more efficient at nine? Is it better done at nine?' to realising that yesterday is just as feasible an option. As long as we recognise the world as yesterday, who's to say that it isn't?"

"So this thing works?"

"Absolutely, come into the parlour."

The minister led the way back into the room with the device. As they passed a particularly impressive piece of pottery, Ian dripped butter on its head.

"Oh, don't worry about him. I doubt he would be able to maintain any sort of healthy blood pressure with that thing sticking out in front of him."

The machine stood there, winking and whirring gently.

"So, it doesn't actually turn back time or anything?"

"No, really it monitors that state of the world and then recreates that state, extrapolating where it has to. It's just a huge abacus for atoms, really."

"What's this bit?"

"That's the flux capacitor. It's the bit that reverses the polarity and makes the whole thing run smoothly, you know. I got the idea from a film. HG Wells' 'The Time Machine', I think it was."

"Can we go and see Henry the Eighth?"

"Ah."

"So it doesn't work?"

"Oh, it does work, but at the moment it can only do calculations from when it was made, when it started calculating. It's not very good at subtraction yet.

"Right, how about the year 2020? Successive girlfriends have told me I should look quite distinguished by then."

"Again, its multiplication is a little erratic."

"So we can't go to 2020?"

"Not unless you want to be chased by the shrimp people."

"Is there anywhere we can go?"

"Oh yes, it's calculations are quite accurate up to the present day, back to when I finished it.

"And when did you finish it?"

"Last Saturday. Still, is there anything you want to see from the last three days.

And suddenly, it dawned on Ian. There was something. There was very definitely something he would like to see from the last three days. And he told this marvellous little creature when and where it was.
And a lever was pulled, and buttons were pressed, and the room filled with fog, and the fog cleared.

* * * * *

"This is a nice room. Nice, high ceilings. Must set you back a bit." said the minister, looking around Ian's bedroom.

"It does. You wouldn't mind if I waited a while, would you? I just want to see what happens for a while." That sandwich had really done the trick, Ian felt on top of the world.

"Of course not. You believe it works, now?"

"Oh yes."

"What is it you want to see?"

"Well, I woke up this morning and…well, I told you about the blood."

"Ah yes, that reminds me. Ian, there's something I probably should have explained earlier."

"What's that, vicar?" Ian stared at the bed, it was perfectly clean, and he was slumped in a corner of it. He looked very odd when he slept, as if he was trying to eat the pillow.

"Minister, Ian. It's just that, for all my progressive theories, I'm something of a social conservative. Almost a reactionary, to be fair. I have a great belief in social responsibility. After all, look at the trouble irresponsibility has caused: atom bombs, Nazism, hundreds of thousands of teenage motherhoods. It's a messed-up world, Ian."

Ian wished the little man would stop talking so much. He was trying to concentrate on the bed. It was still clean. No blood. He hadn't killed anyone. That is, unless, and suddenly something became very clear to Ian despite the scotch, unless he were a werewolf!

"You see, I have a basic and fundamental hatred for those who only care about them selves. I do think you should take responsibility for your actions. If a murderer kills someone, then the penalty should be expected to fit the crime."

"I see what you mean." Together, the steak and the alcohol were really warming him up, he could settle in here for a few hours. How could he not have noticed this guy talked so much earlier?

"And if someone knows something, or thinks they know something about a murder, it's irresponsible of them not to go to the authorities don't you think?"

"Well, vicar…" It really was quite unbearably hot in here. How could he have slept so soundly last night? He turned to look at the little man, and saw an entirely new light in his eyes. Not a twinkle, not a glimmer, but, most definitely, a gleam.

"Minister! I'm not a vicar or a pastor or a cleric or a chaplain, I'm a minister, Ian! Priest if you must; that is, at least an all-purpose term for a member of the clergy."

"Sorry, minister." This conversation was not quite what Ian needed at the moment. Besides, he felt as if his insides were boiling. Perhaps it was time to go back.

"And you, Ian, you've learnt the importance of facing circumstance too late. Think of all you could have done this morning."

"I think we should go back now."

"No, Ian, I think we should stay here until we know whose blood that is."

Ian moved across the room to look down at his sleeping self.

"Can I see or hear us?"

"Oh yes, Ian, we're really here."

Then he had a dazzling idea. He shook himself violently, eliciting a groan, as he beat his own hands off. "…cking sleeping…me alone."

"Don't go to the priest's house, don't go to the priest's house!"

"We did drink an awful lot last night didn't we, Ian?"

"Wake up, you stupid…" Another blinding idea, he grabbed a pen from his pocket and scribbled on the pad next to his bed. Scribbled, that is, until a stabbing pain in his stomach doubled him over in pain.

The priest looked over and clicked his tongue against his teeth.

"That will be the paralysis, I expect. Botany, don't you know, wonderful science. The mushrooms, Ian. You don't even like mushrooms, do you. You were just being polite. Very potent, very fast-acting. My personal favourites."

Ian felt all of his limbs stiffen, and tried to scream, but all that emerged from his throat was a faint gurgle. He rasped as loud as he could until his tongue failed to work any more.

"You see, you didn't care, Ian. You didn't care whose blood it was. You didn't care where it came from, as long as it wasn't yours. You just looked after yourself. 'Don't go to the p'? You won't be needing this." He screwed the paper into a little ball and tossed under the bed. Ian saw it roll.

"Your answer to the situation in which you found yourself was not to look for answers, but to make sure you were all right. How long were you going to do it, Ian? How long were you going to be a victim of circumstance? When were you going to take charge, Ian? When were you going to care about anything except yourself? You should have looked at yourself, skulking around outside newsagents and pubs. You are a ridiculous human being, but always remember that you had other options. There were lots of other things you could have done. No-one forced this on you, Ian. So why don't you lie there and twitch for a while, and get ready to watch free will in action. Hang on a second, I need a stepladder."

And so it came to pass that Ian that watched himself wake up in a pool of blood. He watched himself get out of bed, watched himself fall, watched himself work through what the note could mean, watched himself wonder where all the blood had come from. He tried to tell himself that it was dripping from the ceiling, from a wound in his shoulder, held open "large enough so that you will undoubtedly bleed to death, but small enough for that to take quite a few hours". He desperately willed the words, but his body simply wasn't functioning. He knew if he could get his own attention he would survive, he would survive even being nailed to the ceiling. If someone would come he would live. And he walked out of his flat without looking up.

I'm not sure if this is a

I'm not sure if this is a dialect thing or not, but several times you use the word "on" when I would think "to" would be more appropriate. Eg. "intended on giving up smoking" rather than "intended to give up" as well as "relieved on finding" rather than "relieved to find". I think it's that weird "on" combined with the gerund. But maybe I’m the weird one here. :)

The first three paragraphs (well, every bit until the "Ian" part, actually) made me feel as if this story was supposed to be in first person. I think in part it is because of the "you do this you do that" sorta thing. I love the first three paragraphs, but to discover that I was reading about some guy named Ian rather than the nice gentleman who had been talking to me in such a familiar way was a little surprising. Not that I don't like Ian, understand, it was just a little surprising. I would really suggest letting us know that Ian is talking somewhere in the first paragraph.

Another teeny note. I somehow managed to miss the part where he got cleaned up and was under the impression he was wandering around for cigarettes still unshowered. It might be beneficial to spend a couple sentences on that.

Other than that though, wow. I love this story. I really get a sense of the characters’ voices from it (other than the slight confusion at the beginning of the story). Also, I like your spin on the time travel thing. It’s a fresh and different take on the whole thing and it really tickled my fancy.