by The Somnambulist Society
“There’s nobody-people in there.”
He told me this with some conviction, his small hand in mine as we walked home together from school. We had gravitated to one another that year, in amongst the maelstrom of the school playground; two quiet children who lived the better part of their lives within their heads. Nowadays we walked home together, once school had finished for the day, although we waited first until the last of the bullies and stragglers had trudged reluctantly to their own homes.
In the fading light of that crisp autumn evening, he pointed to the wasteland, beyond the crooked metal fence that ran along the winding road down toward the village. A factory had stood there once, my father had told me. They built planes there, during the war. Spitfires and Lancaster bombers, great roaring things that split the sky with an eagle’s shriek as they went. Now, only a few skeletal out-buildings remained, and piles of grey, crumbling rubble.
I told him that he wasn’t saying it right, like Miss Hill had taught us at school. “There aren’t any people living in there”, I tried to tell him, but he shook his head with firm insistence.
“I don’t mean that. I mean, people are living there. It’s just that they’re nobody-people .”
I could not fathom what he meant and insisted that he was wrong. We had walked past the wasteland countless times together, and not once had we seen a single sign of life among the ruins, not even a fox or a stray cat. Sulking perhaps because of my lack of wonder at his tall tale, he picked up a stick from the road and began running it along the fence as we walked. The metal rattled like an untuned piano, the links shuddering as he strummed them with the point of the rough stick.
“You don’t understand. They’re not like ordinary people. They’re nobody. They think they’re people, but they aren’t really. Nobody can see them, but they can see us .”
I shuddered, while the discordant ringing of the fence reached a shrill crescendo as he hammered it with the stick. Almost as soon as he had started this act of atonal aggression, he flung the stick over the fence, where it landed with a soft thud on the ground below. Nothing appeared to have been startled by the racket we (or rather, he) had made this side of the fence. The wasteland appeared as still and as eerie as it always was.
“They used to be like us.” He went on, his pace quickening as we reached a bend in the road. “Then they were forgotten. People just didn’t notice them anymore, and they disappeared, but not like in the pictures, like The Invisible Man .” He held his hands up before him in a gesture of mock horror, as if being confronted at last by an unseen wraith from a bad monster movie.
“You know like when Mr Goulding went barmy? He went walking around the village, locked out of his house for ages, until finally the police came and took him away to the madhouse. Only he never came back, see? He became a nobody-people.”
I remembered poor old Mr Goulding all too well. It had been so strange and sad, seeing him wandering from house to house, bawling his eyes out like a lost child. Shell-shock, my Dad had called it, but I never understood what that meant.
“So, they become see-through, and they lose their voices too, so nobody can hear them. They wander around, all lonely and lost until sometimes they find each other. It’s usually in places like the wasteland, see. They’re sad, forgotten places, just like them.”
We passed the bend in the road; but I was perplexed, for it seemed as if we’d barely made any progress at all. The fence still led down the road, the wasteland beside us ever-present. I began to feel a prickle of anxiety at the nape of my neck, even with his hand held firmly in mine (though his grip had lost its reassuring warmth, replaced now by a cold, tight clamminess that seemed almost unyielding).
I asked him how he knew that the nobody-people lived on the wasteland. He smiled; though it seemed a sad kind of smile as if he was about to offer some kind of condolences to me.
“They’re not hard to find, once you know where to look. You just need to get forgotten, too. Here, let me show you.”
I looked, and saw, at last, there was no hand held tight within my own. I was alone, in the dwindling daylight, beside the fence that led to the wasteland. No, not beside it, for I had somehow crossed over to the other side of the rusting, rattling fence, and now I stood with both feet planted firmly upon the earth and rubble of the wasteland. The land of the nobody-people.
In the distance, the sagging walls of an old barracks-hut stood out on the dim horizon, its windows cracked with age and neglect. From behind it, I saw a familiar face; another quiet boy, who I had found on the other side of a frightening, noisy playground, who had offered to walk home with me so many times before. He beckoned to me, a broad yet joyless smile on his face. I walked among the debris, the bricks and wood and nails, across the blasted stretch of earth that was the wasteland, to meet my friend and his nobody-people.
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