The helicopter buzzes slowly across the dipping waves reflecting the bright blue skies above us. Directly in front of us I see her. The Mardi. Like an old ghost ship, flaked black with long-faded go faster flames on her hull. The most striking thing about her is the curious red and white wooden toadstool that has been erected, lop-sided at the top of the main mast. She looks abandoned in this Antarctic Bay and as we touch down at the rear of the ship, I’m tempted to tell Jim to turn around and fly us back. ‘Okay Smally?’ he asks me.
‘We’ll soon see’, I tell him, grab my rucksack, pull my hat down over my head and step out into the cold sunkissed afternoon, slamming the door behind me and scuttling for cover.
I lean against the rail, beside a couple of dirty great jars filled with some form of dull glowing algae, watch as the copter crawls slowly back up into the sky. I take a deep breath and clank downstairs. It has been almost four months since I left this place and between you and me, I’m fucking frightened about what I’m going to find.
Actually I find nothing.
No, literally there is nothing. Not a soul. No food in the cupboards (no change there then), two dead sharks in an orange pool in my old Bunkroom (much changed… the enormous marble Warchalking effigy is pretty freaky), tons of rubbish crammed into another, the interior of a tube train in a third. It’s eerily quiet… not at all how I remembered it. No sign of the Atom Band or Simon imping around, no W or Becky… nothing. There’s an old battered rocket in the old Forward Hold (looks suspiciously like the old submarine) and the bottom corridor is under a foot of icy water. It’s like walking across a battle-field on the morning after when all the bodies have been dragged away. You can taste the stench of defeat. There’s not even Niko crackling with his malevolent sneering voice to sarcastically welcome me back, and the autopilot/navigation system has been seriously wrecked. Eventually I fall into a chair in the Wardroom and pick up the old leather-bound journal, rub my hands across its cover. I guess it should all be in here. Everything I’ve missed.
It was the 5th October 2009 at 10.30pm.
I was slightly drunk and drained from the Invisible Box-Set when I staggered out of this very room heading for the closet in Bobby’s room to steal some gin. That was when I discovered Willoughby, climbing back up into the attic… assuming him to be some kind of thief, I grabbed his wriggling brown boots and hauled him down, was shocked to see my own face looking back at me with a mangled eye – seemed to have been painted onto the sewn-shut eyelid. I was so shocked that I didn’t even flinch when he hammered me on the head with a scrench and knocked me out. Apparently he replaced me that night and nobody even noticed.
I stayed in the little hideaway above the closet for another five days while Willoughby pretended to be me. At first I just thought of it as a welcome break from the stresses of ship life and enjoyed the peace and quiet, but pretty quickly I began to realise that it was more than that. A sickness had set in. I wanted to go home. So we made a pact. He would be me, an imaginary man – and I would go back to being myself. I gave him all the passwords for my email accounts. It didn’t seem that weird at the time. I wasn’t just sick for home, but also was sick of music, sick of trying. I felt like I’d failed and the Box-Set was supposed to be the last big swing at it.
On October 10th, Jim arrived with some giant crates for Willoughby. Something ridiculous about going to the moon. I left him lying there across a box, half-unconscious, and made my way back to Scotland, and back to my life. And life was good.
I often dreamt about the Mardi and the people I have grown to think of as my friends, but I had no intention of ever going back. Until the day that one of kiddo’s pictures vanished in the night, replaced with a hand-printed note in my writing that read EDIH ATTOG UOY GNIMOC ERA SNOOG EHT. I knew immediately that it had been written by Willoughby.
I’m sitting at my bedroom window gazing out at the winter moon splashed across the sea when the phone rings.
‘Smally, I need to ask you something’, says the voice.
‘Willoughby Toad? What the fuck are you doing calling me? This could jeopardise EVERYTHING…’ I whisper, glancing back nervously at Mrs Smally fast asleep in the bed.
‘It’s about The Daydream Generation. What are you doing with it?’ he asks me.
‘You know what I’m doing with it. Nothing. It’s over for me’ I tell me.
‘I want to take over’, he tells me. ‘Permanently. With some friends…. it’s too good to let it fade away Smally’ he says.
I remember the five days, his great idea about how I could simply vanish back into my own life and leave him to deal with the persona, with the records, until The End. He’d sounded VERY convincing when he told me how this story ended, the Mardi sinking a day short of Jacksonville, April 29th 2010. As far as I was concerned The Daydream Generation, Quixodelic Records and The Utica Flower Company were all going to go down with Willoughby and the ship. ‘And how can you do that if you’re dead?’
‘I changed my mind about that’, he tells me. ‘I don’t really believe in fate. I’d like to start a cassette label. A Quixodelic cassette label.’
A cassette label?
I shake my head in amazement. NOBODY listens to cassettes anymore.
‘That’s fucking ridiculous. Look, do what you want, just don’t call me again’, I tell him and hang up the phone.
I walk back to the computer and check on the progress of the manuscript, muttering under my breath ‘One-headed Boy, for fuck’s sake…’ spools of tape unwinding behind my eyes.
The cassette idea was like someone setting a firework off inside my chest, my bones and organs were suddenly lighting up like the components of a pinball machine as the idea rattled around flipping on the brain flippers. I lay awake in bed for hours. Finally got up, called Jim, printed off the manuscript, put on some warm clothes and…
8 days later here I am.
I thumb through the journal… the moon mission, Plum Island, the 21 mysteries of the universe, the Unimerse Machine… it is… quite insane. I read over Willoughby’s last journal entry “Epiphany”. There’s something about it, something that strikes a note. It’s like looking into one of those distorted mirrors and your own reflection telling you something that you didn’t even know yourself.
He’s right though. We should keep the Daydream Generation going. It won’t be easy, especially now that there’s another little fox on his way, but then it’s never been easy. The only thing that matters is whether it is worth it. ‘Not A Poet Be’ starts to play in my head and I laugh.
My eyes look up and catch sight of a poster pinned to the notice-board:
Why does this suddenly make so much sense?
Standing there, holding the journal a small white card falls out and lands at my feet. I bend down and pick it up, read the scrawled white writing.
I can see the helicopter and I feel it in my bones that you’re heading back to the ship. I’ve spent the last few days unimagining all kinds of terrible people that come through the freezer. Hopefully your imagination is as mighty as mine. Otherwise you’re all fucked.
I better go if I’m going to daydream myself onto the flight out of here.
All the Georgie with that Quixodelic cassette project. For what it’s worth, you’re welcome.
I just stand there for an eternity staring at the the card until the words have vanished into thin air. Put it in my pocket and head for the Communications Room where I pick up the phone and dial home.
‘Alfonso? Where are you?’
‘Hey, I’m back on the ship’, I tell her. ‘Antarctica.’
‘Did you pack warm clothes? I bet you didn’t’, she laughs.
‘You’re not pissed off?’
‘Why would I be pissed off?’ she asks me. ‘You’re you. When will you be back?’
‘1st of May hopefully’, I tell her.
‘Okay, I’ll see you then’, she says and the line clicks dead.
I head up to the bridge and pick up a scrench that is lying on the worktop beside the smashed up navigation system. Might as well keep busy trying to fix it and start thinking about Daydream Generation 8.
That would be fun.