Strange things happen for no reason
rating: +35+x

It was raining heavily by the time Langdon Pisk was done with his work. Thick sheets of the stuff were thundering on the windows, and the rhythmic thud of droplets in the bucket by his desk were an ever-present reminder of the faculty's strained budget. He stared at the screen in front of him until a roof-tile clattered to the ground outside, jerking him from his reverie. With bleary eyes he gathered his papers into a pile, shoved them halfheartedly into his imitation-leather satchel, and made his way down the stairwell, straining to avoid any and all human interaction on the way.

He was, ostensibly, a lecturer, though it seemed less and less like it by the day; to say the rest of the mathematics department had something against him supposed that they even recognised his existence. The friendliness that they displayed to students and parents — hell, even to other members of staff — had dwindled from the moment he stepped through the double doors on his first day at work. What was left in its place was a stillness, an icy nonchalance that bordered on contempt. Clipped tones and sentence fragments abounded; people renowned for their outgoing demeanour and pleasant conversation would go out of their way to make him feel…

Unwelcome wasn't the word. Rather, Langdon felt certain of his place at the University, as certain as he'd ever felt about anything in his life. But over the past several months, he'd come to realise that that place was far, far beneath his colleagues, at the bottom of a fathomless pit the sides of which he couldn't hope to scale.

He'd never been to a funeral, but the thud of his office door never failed to remind him of a casket closing shut. It was a very final sort of noise.

So down the stairs he went: past the better-insulated and more thoroughly waterproofed rooms of his supposed equals, past the faculty lounge from which he had been shunned and never again dared to darken, past the signs in the ground-floor corridor advertising a wealth of teaching and managerial positions, and out into the street where, of course, the rain was beating down with the might of Zeus.

Langdon, who had briefly forgotten this detail, swore. He fumbled for the grip of his umbrella, but in doing so dropped his satchel, causing him to swear again. Face flushing red he stooped to pick it up, opened his umbrella with the other hand, managed (just about) to wrestle the bloody thing under control, stepped out onto the pothole-pitted streets of Durham, and was promptly hit by a speeding car.

It was a rather graceless way to go, and as he lay bleeding into a puddle with several kinds of pain shooting down his spine, he prayed to any god watching that someone would care.

His hopes, sad to say, were unfounded. And so Langdon Pisk died.

A sleeper-borne
love-letter dream
of better-meant exception.

::. :: :. : .

A bulkhead formed
from forms of screams
and rent from nociception.

It was raining heavily by the time Langdon Pisk woke up. It had been a light, fitful sleep, filled with inexplicably detailed dreams of his own demise at the hands of a rogue automobile. "No matter", he thought. "I never get much work done past 4 anyway". He scooped the paper into his bag, ran his fingers through his hair — he should at least resemble a functioning member of society — and began to get up from his chair.

A siren stopped him.

It was faint but recognisable, and coming from the street below his window. He peered out, and his heart sank when he saw the ambulance. Judging by the police car pulling up, and the fact that the body hadn't been moved from where it lay, there was nothing anybody could do. Poor guy. Langdon wondered aloud who it was, and the sound of his own voice caught him off-guard — it felt…

Well, disrespectful. Someone had died, for heaven's sake. A bit of basic decorum was the least he could show in the circumsta-

Except, wait.

Backpedal, rewind, reverse. That wasn't, he realised, why his voice had caught him off-guard. It wasn't the disrespect (though granted, he was probably still an unthinking bastard), it was the fact that, but moments ago, he'd heard another voice echo the exact same sentiment. Only that time, he'd been lying out there on the road, and it had been one of his forever-distant coworkers who'd voiced their idle concerns. Professor Rietch, he vaguely recalled. What a bitch.

Still, his heart was sinking lower than he thought possible as his brain tried to process what was happening. Someone down there was dead. He'd fallen asleep at his desk, and dreamt that he'd left the department and been a victim of reckless youth. In the dream, he'd heard a voice. Now, he was the relevant voice. Putting two and two together…

It was probably a coincidence. He was probably generating memories retroactively due to a combination of Seasonal Affective Disorder, poor diet, and a working environment which, had he been in toxicology instead of mathematics, he could have used for another thesis. The stress of seeing a corpse, even sheet-covered, had left his sleep-addled brain open to suggestion. It was logical. It was normal. It was fine.

Nevertheless, by the time he'd reconciled all this he'd sprinted down three flights of stairs and was halfway to the scene of the crime.

"Randall McAllister."

"Say that again, sorry?"

"His name was Randall McAllister. He owned the cafe on Elvet Hill. Did you know him?"

"What? No, no, sorry. I- uh."

How could he possibly explain? He'd been such an idiot, like he always was. So eager to find things out, and now look at him, standing by a circle of screens in the pouring rain, filled with relief that the person who'd died hadn't been-

The policeman interrupted him. "I'm sorry sir", he said, "but are you smiling?"

Langdon raised a hand to his mouth instinctively. "What? Sorry, no, I just…" He trailed off. "I thought it was someone else."

"Oh. Oh, I see. Don't worry, I understand, lot of people leaving work late round about now. Thought it mighta been one of your friends, yeah? And it well could've been, too; it's the second case of dangerous driving here tonight."

That sinking feeling again, that breathless dizziness as his mind tried to make up for what his heart was assuming.

"Wh- what happened?"

"Some idiot," said the officer, in a tone of voice that rather underplayed the seriousness of recent events, "razzed down here with no headlights on, hit the post box on the corner. It's a miracle no-one was hurt then as well."

"Yeah," said Langdon as he felt the world fall out from underneath him. "A miracle. Although I expect if he had hit someone, the road would've been closed off, right? And this wouldn't have happened?"

The man shrugged. "Who can say. Personally, I'm glad it wasn't; you can't trust this sort-" He gestured to the screen behind him. "-farther than you can throw 'em. Obviously I wouldn't say 'good riddance' or anything, but-"

"Yes, well." The world was spinning now, the halos of streetlights swirling amidst the rain. "I'd better be getting off home. Sorry for the trouble."

"No problem. Walk safely now."

"I will," said Langdon with some force. "I definitely, definitely will."

And his conviction, suffice to say, was well-placed. No spectres of death greeted him on the way home, no ghouls of souls unrighteously taken, no vengeful deities out to balance the books. His journey was as uneventful as always, if slightly later than usual thanks to his brief narcoleptic episode.

He stepped through the door in a daze, hung the umbrella (still unopened) on the coat-rack, towelled his hair dry, ate a small microwave dinner for one, brushed his teeth, shrugged on his pyjamas, and went, once again, to sleep. His dreams were thankfully no more vivid or lethal than usual, and he was able (just about) to file the events of the evening under the ever-so-useful heading of Things That Just Sort Of Happened.

Mr. McAllister's death made the news the next day; the previous driver, and Langdon's own oneiric escape, didn't. All things considered, it was probably just as well.

And so, with no small amount of trepidation, Langdon Pisk lived.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License