Pete had taken the week to write out his script. He spent the days absent-mindedly checking figures, often checking them twice or three times over, much to the annoyance of his boss who thought that this was some sort of practical joke, while at the same time running ideas through his mind. Then on returning home he quickly put on a pot of tea, through some bread in the toaster, and then with the toast still warm he would jog upstairs to his room.
He’d had the house to himself since Alan was on lates and Greg was schmoozing clients. The radio would go on quietly to drown out the deafening silence of the house creepily shrinking itself about him and he would set to work for two hours. Scribble. Scribble. Erase. Scribble. Scribble. Erase. And so on.
And by the end of the week he was not just pleased, he was extremely satisfied. In fact if anybody had asked him at that exact moment he would have pontificated over it being the best work he had ever produced. But no one did. The house was empty.
But then the doubt began to gnaw at him like a smelly rat attacking a piece of old cheese. And Friday night was spent on extra efforts, except this time it was more: Erase. Scribble. Erase. Erase. Scribble. And so on.
It was only Saturday morning when Pete was absolutely satisfied and with no more doubts. But Greg had a sore throat.
‘Maybe Alan should do it’, Pet suggested, desperate for his script to be given some life.
Greg put up his hand to signal that strand of discussion should stop immediately before it even started. He pointed to his throat.
‘Might be better later’, he whispered.
But it wasn’t. The three of them sat glumly in the living room staring at the TV when they all knew that they should have been out putting on over on their landlord. None of them paid attention to what was on, being deep in glum thought.
Greg had never had a sore throat before in his life and it worried him. His whole life was about talking, about stringing words into sentences that sold an idea and left people trusting him. But if he couldn’t talk to them, what did he possibly have to offer? It had been a tough week, he considered, harrying possible new clients into becoming new clients.
Loud cocktail bars full of suited, arrogant men and over compensating women, and he was having to be nice to them, sympathise with their fears, weave answers to their conundrums and almost beg for their custom. It was no wonder that his throat had given out, and deep down he felt that he was nothing without his voice. As with it he could do anything and be anything.
Alan was despairing over whether or not to call Marie, the boiler lady. He desperately wanted to. She was both beautiful and independent, which made her attractive more than anything else. And yet he knew that he would never be allowed to date such a woman by his work colleagues. In their eyes the man should be dominant.
His father had always been dominant. He never let anyone get away with anything short of absolute respect in the house, whether it be his children or his wife. No one would speak at the dinner table unless they were spoken to directly, or if they had been allowed to have a discussion. And no one ever dared say that wasn’t how things should be conducted.
Somewhere deep down it hadn’t felt right to Alan, but he had no way, no outlet, to say otherwise, and had no just cause to find out for real. But during the week he had been reading up on feminist and equality issues in the library and for the first time in his life something had made sense to him. But what should he do about it?
Pete was feeling worse than either of the others. Not only was he upset that his script would not get an airing after all, it was what the script meant to him. It had been supposed to have been a kind of tribute to the person who had inspired him most of all, to the person who had been his hero.
And if he hadn’t been going through all those memories in his head, of the University days when everything seemed simple and the world hadn’t seemed such a nasty place after all, then he probably wouldn’t have answered quite so honestly when the others had nudged him to ask what was wrong. After all grown men didn’t normally shed tears during Animal Antics.
In fact he would have just shrugged it all off. Made some sort of boast that it was a wonderful practical joke that would be lost on the world and left a whoopee cushion on someone’s chair later on in the evening.
And if Greg, who was the first to notice, hadn’t had his sore throat then he would probably have made the sort of comment that would only have elicited bravado on Pete’s part. As it was he nudged Alan’s knee with his own and pointed towards Pete.
‘You OK?’ Alan asked sensitively.
‘Just thinking’, Pete replied.
‘I know you put a lot of work into it, but really it’s just a practical joke. After all, it wouldn’t have been the first time that the pizza trick had been played.’
‘No’, Pete said shaking his head. ‘This was for him.’
Puzzled, Alan looked at Greg and Greg shook his head. Normally they would have laughed it all off and switched over to the football, but in their own delicate mental states, an instinct told them to be cautious. Alan turned down the volume on the TV and Pete began to speak.
‘I was never really that popular at school. I had a couple of friends but that was about it. I was reasonably intelligent but no one, not even the teachers, ever took too much notice of me. Or my parents either for that matter. And so I started coming up with practical jokes just for the attention.
‘They were never very good really. I did get a week’s detention once for dropping a can of paint onto my art teacher, and I regularly left fake spiders and mice in the girl’s toilets. I got a few detentions for those too. But it did make me a bit more popular and even with one or two of the girls who were less prone to screaming showed some interest too. They told me that those other girls were just trying to get attention themselves.
‘But that was school. I was nothing more than a medium fish in a very small pond. And when I got to University and tried the same sort of tricks, no one took any notice whatsoever. For a while I wondered if any of the girls ever went to the toilet since nothing was ever mentioned. It just turned out that there was a better trickster out there. His name was Paul Eliot.’
Greg and Alan remained still and quiet. Honesty wasn’t the most common bond between them, and in fact they knew very little about each other. And although neither of them knew it, they were both full of the same fear of hearing what Pete would say next. Once it was said, there would be no going back. But on the other hand, to stop him now would leave a shadow over them all, of a clouded secret that would sit on their shoulders and never fully disperse. Before they could make up their minds, fate decided for them as Pete continued speaking.
‘He was in one of the other Halls, one that a couple of my course mates at the time were in. Apparently Paul had left a fake mouse in one of the girl’s toilets too, except that his had a clever twist. He had fitted a small battery and legs to it so that it would move, but not only that; it also had a movement sensor. So it only moved once someone came in, just like a real mouse, and if they were jumping around with fright it would continue to move too, making them even more frightened.’
A smile played across Pete’s face. ‘It was genius, truly genius. And I knew that I would have to adapt some of my own tricks. It took a while to get going but towards the end of that first year I found out a secret about the student Hall rep and took my chance.
‘Dave Coombes would always keep his room door open while he was in so if someone had a problem it always made them feel welcome. He was a nice guy really. But he was afraid of the dark and always slept with a nightlight on. With the help of a couple of friends we managed to rig something up to the nightlight so that we could switch it on and off remotely, while I led him away from his room with a fake problem.
‘I also made friends with a couple of guys doing media and on this particular night we set up a smoke machine in his corridor, which we used to hide a small track that we had fixed to the floor. When he was asleep we switched off his light and knocked on the door. Obviously waking in the dark threw him a bit and we heard him trying to switch on his light while we knocked on the door again.
‘The look on his face as he saw the fake ghost coming towards him on the track, surrounded by the smoke was hilarious and the speed at which he ran would have given Usain Bolt a decent race. He never slept in his room again for the rest of the year, staying in his office at night. Word got around quickly and from then on Paul and I were best mates.’
Greg and Alan had been laughing at Pete’s story, but now as Pete himself went quiet again, so did the room. Alan especially felt that something bad was about to happen. Pete had a grim look to his face.
‘During our second and third years we put our heads together and came up with some fantastic ideas, which although we got tellings off from time to time from heads of departments; we could tell that some rebellious streak within them actually enjoyed them. Then in the month or so leading up to our final exams Paul told me that he wanted to do something special to finish and not a trick this time, but something good, something that would make everyone laugh and smile and remember forever. He had an inspirational way of talking that you couldn’t say no to.’
By now Greg was desperate to know what had happened, no matter how awful. Despite his sore throat he croaked.
‘So what happened?’