The Architect (Short Story)

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(The Architect is taken from my 2016 collection of short stories – The Outsider Tales. The story was inspired by some weird real-life phone calls that I endured when I was a struggling musician looking for gigs. Enjoy!)

The Architect

Unlike Wilmot Brown, the black ink had not faded with time. As he sat there in a dark room lit only by the faint glow of the streetlights outside, the words on the page were still clear.

‘The darkest hour of the night comes just before the dawn.’

Wilmot had a thing for a good quote. They were his rare stamps or exotic marbles, and therefore his something to be hoarded. Every time he heard a good one, he jotted it down in a small black notebook – his own self-help manual. Hardly a day went past now that Wilmot didn’t feel the need to pick up his book of quotes and take comfort within its pages. In there were the words of the greats: Abraham Lincoln, Sir Francis Bacon, and others whose words of wisdom had outlived the rest of them.

He closed the notebook and put it down on the window ledge. Leaning back on the slim wooden chair that he’d placed by the window, Wilmot Brown continued his vigil over the streets of London. He leaned down and picked out out the last bottle of beer from a six-pack at his feet. Dragging a metal bottle opener from the pocket of his jeans, he gripped the edges of the lid and as he pushed upwards, it hissed like an angry snake caught under his boot. Wilmot closed his eyes and drank in the icy cold liquid.

“Happy New Year,” he said to no one.

He turned back to the window. Down there was a never-ending parade of New Year’s Eve revellers. They were all over the street, pouring out of every nook and cranny like an infestation of cockroaches. They just kept on coming.

One particular group of partygoers caught his eye. They had to be the loudest ones so far, what with their laughing and singing and trying not to scream as they fell down drunk in the middle of the road. And it was all so hysterical that they were still taking selfies even as they lay on the deck, squashed together in one big happy group.

Wilmot leaned forwards for a better look. As his faced pressed up against the cold glass, he reached out and picked up his imaginary rifle. Then he pointed it towards the streets and placed a red target on each one of their little heads.

“This is Agent Brown.” He was talking into the collar of the faded blue zip top he was wearing. “Clean up time.”

He took aim once more and was on the brink of pulling the trigger when he heard a sound. Both the imaginary gun and the hitman persona (one of his favourites) vanished.

His mobile phone was ringing.

Lifting his forehead off the glass, he tried to remember where he’d left the phone a few hours earlier. It was probably still lying under the bed as he’d wanted it out the way. Switch it off, put the world aside and get drunk – too drunk to care. That was the plan at least. Maybe then he could sleep for a day or two straight without stopping to eat or think about food. That was one way to beat the hunger pangs.

What a pity he’d forgotten to switch the phone off.

Who’d be calling him anyway? It was only eight o’clock – midnight, the bells and the bullshit were still hours away. It’s Mum, he thought. Has to be. She does the same thing every year, calling him up before the phone lines get jammed at midnight. He squirmed at the thought of small talk with the old girl. How’s things son? How’s the new house? And worst of all, how’s the acting going?

To his parents, Wilmot Brown had always tried to convey the image of being at least a mildly successful actor. His mother – a nervous woman by nature – would have a fit if she found out how dire things were for him career-wise. For his part, he was sick of lying – to her, his dad, his successful brother. Telling them that everything was okay when it wasn’t. That was the Wilmot Brown guide to fooling your family. Suck it up, smile, and act cool – which funnily enough was the only acting he ever did these days.

He walked over to the single bed, which was tucked up against the wall of the bedsit where he’d been living for the last five months. Wilmot hoped that if he walked slowly enough, then maybe she’d hang up. So he tried, but the phone kept ringing.

Wilmot dropped onto his knees. He thrust his head into the space under the bed and looked around. “Jesus,” he said. The phone was dead centre, a lone wolf drowning in a sea of dust and God knows what.   He reached out and wrapped his fingers around the phone, pulling it out of the mess.

He glanced down at the screen: ‘Unknown number’.

That’s not Mum, he thought. Wilmot snorted in annoyance. Nobody else ever called him except salespeople. But who on earth was trying to sell him shit at eight o’clock on New Year’s Eve?

Usually he didn’t answer withheld numbers. This time, his curiosity got the better of him.

He hit the green button.

“Hello.” He sat down on the bed.

“How’s it going?”

Wilmot didn’t know the voice and yet somehow, maybe he did. The voice had an accent and it was either American or Canadian. It was a deep voice too, not booming but hushed, and with a quirky snarl that reminded Wilmot of the way Humphrey Bogart used to speak.

“What can I do for you mate?” Wilmot said.

“Are you the actor? The gentleman with the ad in The Stage newspaper – male actor, North London – looking for work?

Wilmot sighed. Here we go again, they call you up, promise you the earth and hand you a dry turd.

“Yeah that’s me.”

“Pleasure to talk to you Mr Brown.”

Wilmot ran a hand through his black hair. “Look mate, it’s New Year’s Eve. What can I do for you?”

“Well, maybe I can do something for you?”

“Yeah?” Like fucking off?

“I’m an actor too Mr Brown. I’ve just been looking at the classified ads in your British trade paper. There are a lot of people looking for work. It’s hard for young actors today, wouldn’t you agree?”

“I’m thirty-nine,” Wilmot said. “Not that young.”

“Young enough.”

“Gotcha.”

“I’ll get to the point Mr Brown as I can tell you’re not a man who likes to play the waiting game. I just called to give you some career advice.”

Wilmot shook his head back and forth. Not again. “Look mate. My ad says looking for work. Not looking for advice. Do you have work to offer me?”

“Just think about this for a second,” the caller said. “There are other actors in the paper with ads just like yours. They’re all looking for work too. Those are the guys and girls you want to get it on with.”

“What? What are you talking about?”

“Join forces. Form strength in numbers. Do what large groups of actors do and form your own independent theatre group. You could do street performances or make a short film on a low budget. You’ve got more options that way. It might seem like hard work, but you’ve got to think like an entrepreneur as well as an artist.”

“And who’s going to round up all these actors?” Wilmot said. “You?”

“No. I live in the States.”

“So why are you reading a British trade paper?”

“It’s something to do.”

Wilmot’s thumb hovered over the red button. “That sounds hunky-dory mate. I’ll be sure to think it over yeah?”

“I want you to remember something,” the caller said. “You are the architect of your imagination. You sculpt dreams out of thin air and fashion them into the reconstruction of your choice.”

“Uh, okay.”

“You understand Mr Brown?”

“Sure mate. Look I’ve got to go yeah?”

“Go then. And good luck to you sir.”

Wilmot hit the red button and threw the phone onto the bed. He reached out for a bottle of beer that wasn’t there and then fell back on the bed. He spent some time there, looking up at the ceiling until his eyelids grew heavy and pushed themselves shut. Wilmot surrendered without a fight and enjoyed a rare moment of peace. Even the streets outside had fallen silent and everything was –

The phone was ringing again.

Wilmot opened his eyes and cried out in frustration. He caught a whiff of his own breath and ducked for cover. His mouth reeked of the tacky aftertaste of the cheap beer he’d been guzzling all day.

He grabbed the phone.

“What?”

“Alright mate? You got an ad in The Stage?”

Wilmot laughed out loud. Not a happy laugh. Why couldn’t they just leave him alone?

This speaker had a cockney accent and the words came out like bullets from the magazine of a machine gun. His voice was so high-pitched that it wouldn’t have been absurd to think there was a woman on the other end of the line. It was fast and frantic and such a long way away from the laid back Bogart-esque growl of the last caller.

“Yeah,” Wilmot said. “The Stage.”

“An American geezer just called me. Gave me your number, didn’t he? Said I should call you.”

Wilmot brought the phone tighter to his ear. “He gave you my number?”

“Yeah.” And then there was a pause, the kind that should never happen between two strangers talking for the first time. “You do know who that was don’t ya?”

“The American?”

“You don’t know, do you?”

“I know.”

“You don’t know?”

“Fuck sake. Alright, I don’t know.”

“Take a deep breath mate,” the caller said. “Because you just spoke to Henry Wade and yes – I do mean theeee Henry Wade. Two-time Oscar winner and the King of Planet Hollyweird.”

The next thing Wilmot knew he was sitting on the floor. Somehow he’d fell off the edge of his bed and hadn’t seen it happen.

“HENRY WADE?” Wilmot cried out. His voice splintered and he fought for breath to get the words out. “You’re taking the piss.”

“Honestly mate. I know it’s hard to believe but he’s only sitting in some bleedin’ hotel room in LA reading The Stage. I mean, what the fuck right? Making long-distance phone calls to unemployed actors in London. Fuck knows why. He’s probably stoned out of his head.”

Wilmot didn’t answer right away because he was too busy berating himself. I should have known. That voice. You FUCKING idiot!

When Wilmot didn’t say anything, the caller kept talking.

“Henry Wade’s my hero. Nah, more than that he’s my idol. Fuck, I can’t stop shaking…sorry man I’m rambling, aren’t I?”

“Did he tell you?” Wilmot said. “Did he tell you his name?”

“No. But if he was trying to stay anonymous then he called the wrong geezer. I’ve seen all his films at least a dozen times and well, I know the guy inside out, don’t I? I base my acting style on his, I study his speech, his mannerisms, everything. When he let it slip that he was calling from LA, well, I just confronted him with it. You’re fucking Henry Wade aren’t you, I said?”

“Wow.”

“I’ve had worse days.”

Wilmot felt sick to his stomach. His own conversation with Henry Wade had been scant in comparison to this guy’s. This guy, who didn’t sound like the sharpest tool in the box, had picked up on it right away.

What does that make you Wilmot Brown?

 The caller once again filled the silence.   “So what did he say to you?”

“Same as you I guess,” Wilmot said. “Told me to get off my arse and get something going. To join forces with all the out of luck actors in London.”

“That all?”

“He threw a bit of inspirational cheese in there too. Fucking yanks, eh?”

“What did he say?”

Wilmot racked his brain for the right words. “Oh what was it? You are the architect of your imagination and some other bollocks.”

“I don’t remember him saying that to me,” the caller said.

Wilmot allowed himself a smile.

“So what now?” he said to the caller.

“Dunno mate. He suggested I contact you. That’s as far as I’ve got.”

“Think it could work?” Wilmot said. “His great idea?”

“Dunno mate.”

Wilmot thought about it and spoke out loud at the same time. “I haven’t done any decent acting for ages mate. All my energy goes into looking for work these days. And there ain’t none of that kicking about.”

“Yeah.”

“If we could persuade other actors to get involved…”

“Yeah?”

Silence.

“You still there mate?” the caller said.

And then it happened.

As if struck by divine inspiration, Wilmot Brown was suddenly a rock spewing forth a river into the desert of his own half-life. For the first time in a long time, he was alive and ideas and words exploded into existence as one.

“Street performances! We could do street performances mate. You know like busking but acting and we could do Shakespeare and contemporary urban material and think about it the opportunities are limitless and we could get gigs in schools and tour around the country and who knows it might even become fun again and we could get a cool troupe name and well just see what happens it might work might not what do you think man? Eh?”

The caller giggled. “Shit. You sound up for it.”

Wilmot grinned on the other end of the line. “Yeah. That’s the spirit. C’mon let’s do this.

“Yeah.”

“Did he leave any other numbers with you?”

“About four or five actors in North London.”

“That’ll do for starters,” Wilmot said.

“Yeah,” the caller said. It sounded as if he was latching onto Wilmot’s newfound enthusiasm at last.

“That’s the spirit mate,” Wilmot said.

The caller, no doubt in a fit of overexcitement about life’s new possibilities, then burst into flawless impersonation of his hero, the great Henry Wade.

You are the architect of your imagination. You sculpt dreams out of thin air and fashion them into the reconstruction of your choice.”

Wilmot laughed, for real.

“You sound just like him.”

“Let’s swap numbers, eh?” the caller said. “And oh yeah, what’s your name again mate?”

“Wilmot. Wilmot Brown.”

“Call me Loki.”

“Loki?”

“Yeah I know. A nickname from my younger days.”

Wilmot and Loki exchanged numbers, made plans to talk again, and then said their goodbyes.

Wilmot dropped the phone on the bed and headed straight to the fridge. An overwhelming thirst had come from nowhere and he grabbed a beer from the second six-pack that he’d bought to get him through the night.   This one, he thought, is for celebrating. He yanked the lid off and didn’t hear it hiss. Then he went back to the window and sat down in his chair.

“HENRY FUCKIN’ WADE!”

It all made sense. Wilmot Brown had always believed that he was destined for great things in his life and he’d never been able to figure out why great things hadn’t come. Life was always too busy kicking his arse it seemed, but now it made sense. Here he was hobnobbing with the King.

He brought the beer bottle to his lips. His hands shook and not just from the cold.

Wilmot replayed the conversation with Henry. Two-time Oscar winner Henry Wade. And all the while he drank, filling his belly and soaking his brain cells with sweet beer. He then replayed the conversation with Loki and fantasised about himself as a famous actor in the future. Next a drop-dead gorgeous female presenter was interviewing him on television. What about the blonde one from the breakfast show – what’s-her-name with the nice teeth and big tits? She would ask the questions and her legs would pry further open with his every word.

It’s an unusual story Wilmot, isn’t it? The way you got your life back on track.

 Very unusual. It was New Year’s Eve and I was down on my luck. I was alone, completely alone. And then the phone rang…

Wilmot stopped to look down. A massive erection was pushing at the crotch of his jeans. It was ridiculous and wonderful and he laughed. Godzilla was stirring in the deep blue sea and he hadn’t stirred like that in years.

The desire to masturbate was overwhelming. Wilmot’s hand moved down to the zip of his jeans but for some reason, it was at that moment that Loki’s impromptu turn as Henry Wade bounced back into his head:

“You are the architect of your imagination. You sculpt dreams out of thin air and fashion them into the reconstruction of your choice.”

 Man, he did a good Henry Wade.

But wait a minute.

Wilmot’s eyes narrowed. How could Loki have known what to say whilst impersonating Henry’s bullshit? Hadn’t Loki told Wilmot that Henry Wade hadn’t shared all the self-help motivational Oprah crap with him? How could he have known about the architect thing? And to recite it perfectly, almost too perfectly, word for word.

What else had Loki said?

“I’ve seen all his films at least a dozen times and well, I know the guy inside out, don’t I? I base my acting style on his, I study his speech, his mannerisms, everything.”

 When the truth landed, it hit Wilmot Brown like a monster truck to the solar plexus.

 He leapt out of the chair. But as his leading foot made contact with the wooden floor Wilmot slipped on a small puddle of spilled beer. He fell hard, landing on his right knee. Wilmot screamed as he rolled about the floor, cradling his leg as if it were a fragile child.

But he had to keep moving. Wilmot forced himself to sit up and he straightened out the damaged leg. He howled in pain. It felt like a million sharp needles clamping down on his knee all at once. But he fought through the pain and kept moving, not walking but slithering across the floor like a wounded man-snake. He was crawling towards the bed and by now sweating not just buckets but tyrannosaurus sized beads of perspiration. He came to the bed and reached up, pulling at the sheets to use as a climbing aid. He slowly hauled himself onto the bed, biting hard into the thick fabric of the mattress. His phone was there, tucked in between the folds of the sheets. Grabbing it, he fell back onto the floor and searched for the number that Loki had given him.

Loki. How had he not seen this coming?

Wilmot found the number and called it. He put the phone to his ear.

“You prick,” he said, waiting for someone to pick up. “Some people just love to cause shit, don’t they? The mischief-makers and timewasters. Here’s to you Loki and your band of merry men. Fuck all of you. Fuck you who drove a double decker bus over my dreams. Fuck all of you!”

Still, Wilmot hoped he’d got it wrong. Maybe it was still possible. Maybe one of the world’s most famous actors really had called him up from Los Angeles on New Year’s Eve. If you want something bad enough, you know?

Wilmot heard a brief click followed by the sound of a familiar voice on the other end of the line. It wasn’t Loki. And it wasn’t Henry Wade either.

The number that you have dialled has not been recognised. Please hang up and try again…the number that you have dialled has not been recognised. Please hang up and try again…

He hung up.

***

Later that night, Wilmot Brown resumed his vigil over the streets of London. He leaned back on the chair next to the living room window and with great care, straightened out his damaged leg. Wincing in pain, he folded it back up and then opened it out again.

Happy New Year, sucker.

Still, Wilmot smiled. He took comfort in the fact that somewhere out there, someone else was even lonelier than he was. This someone was so lonely in fact, that he was browsing the classified ads of newspapers and magazines, looking to feed his lonely heart on the dreams of others. Looking for somebody to talk to.

He heard something outside. It was screams or laughter or both. People were still swarming all over the streets and from up there, they looked like ants. Wilmot reached for his imaginary gun. He reached out to pick up the weapon but instead noticed the black notebook lying on the window ledge where he’d left it earlier. So instead of the gun, he picked up the book and opened it at a random page.

The words were still clear.

‘The darkest hour of the night comes just before the dawn.’

 

The Outsider Tales is available on Amazon and other retailers for 0.99

 

 

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