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I’d been waiting in the parlour for fifteen of the longest minutes of my life when the suspect entered the room.

The walls were a shade of puce that slipped into a thick, muddy black in patches. Patches that to my mind looked somewhat damp. “Impossible. Unless she’s programmed in a bit of rising” I pondered, whilst taking in the dusty paintings and strange ornaments filling every nook and cranny. It was less a display, more a celebration of vintage creepiness. All fake of course. I was peering into the shadows at what looked suspiciously like a gurning, partially bald yeti, when she glided into the room like a hot knife through butter.

“I see you are enjoying my parlour inspector” she said in a voice that could only be described as ‘really fucking ghoulish’. Being a gent an all, and not likely to curse in such a way at a lady, I made some agreeable noises and silence fell.

Which is when I noticed the clock. But there hadn’t been a clock in the room before she came in, I’d have noticed. The more I listened, the more metallic a ticking it seemed to be, yet my cursory glances around (as much as was polite considering the woman was staring at me like some kind of Tarsier on acid, and did not appear to have blinked since she entered the room either), found no timepiece, and the more I thought about it…the less like clockwork it began to sound anyway, rather something more…organic. Like a beetle, or a…but my thoughts were interrupted by that voice again.

“Would you like some refreshments Inspector…?”

“Barnet. Inspector Barnet at your service, and yes, a cup of cha would go down lovely, my throat feels proper dry miss…mrs..erm..ms? I’m afraid the caller didn’t actually give your name when they reported their misgivings regarding the…issue. What may I call you? Ma’am perhaps?”

“No Inspector, you may call me, ‘My Empress’.”

My Empress. I kid you not. The wild-looking bat was as crazy as her looming walls. Best thing to do in these situations is play along I find. In truth I was as dry as a desert spiders bum hole, so I’d have drunk anything to hand, but the khaki coloured brew she served me tasted of Jasmine and old men’s socks. I felt bilious within one mouthful. I was sweating too by then – Lords above what a hot room, and only the one ray of light coming in from the slightly parted curtains too. I felt uneasy, but couldn’t fathom why. I needed to get a hold of myself. I’m fifty-five years old, not some wet behind the gills kid.

“Certainly…my Empress.” I’m not one to take orders, and can’t be doin’ with high falutin’ sorts, givin’ themselves airs and graces, but…The Empress was oddly alluring, despite the googly eyes, slippery voice, and hair like an explosion of mental copper wire wool. Hair which was pinned up with several vintage-style fountain pens, the nibs of which poked out all over the show and looked to be razor-sharp. She was adorned in unusual garb for these days too, all covered up, so only hints of the goods below were revealed; a sharp contrast to all the see-through hydro suits you see worn on the streets. Perfect bodies and perfect smiles everywhere. The empress was not perfect, her teeth weren’t even glowing. They looked…cream would you believe? Though she’d clearly succumbed to at least one of the latest fads – she had the feratu teeth implants. Everyone who’s anyone fancies themselves as a fake blood sucker these days. I felt a sense of disappointment that she’d joined in, yet I barely knew the woman, how daft is that?

She wore a high-necked lace blouse with an emerald green jacket on top, and her matching long velvet skirt skimmed the oak floor, emitting soft swishing noises left right and centre. I’d never met anyone like her in thirty years on the force. I should have been investigating the report, instead I found myself wanting more information about her.

I said “I see you favour the vintage decholos. This is the best I’ve seen I must say. It’s an impressive program” gesturing around the room.

“Oh no Inspector, this is all quite authentic I assure you” That smile again. Teeth with an extra serving of teeth on top, and flashing a pink tongue all over the show at me too. I glanced at her blouse, the beat of her heart was moving her upper regions subtlety, and suddenly I felt some movement of my own in my nethers that was quite unsuitable considering the situation at hand. Shit.

“Get a grip man!” I thought.

Outloud unfortunately. The Empress laughed like a peal of thunder, her ‘ha-ha’s’ booming across the room at me like waves of hilarious humiliation – I went beetroot red for some time, my amour withdrawing faster than the local speed of light.

The front door bell rang, and she scuttled softly away, leaving me to recover from my discomfort and realise that for this room to have authentic decor, rather than your average, bog-standard, holographic pre-themed one, the items within it would have to be hundreds and hundreds of years old. Eight or nine at least. So old that I sadly then understood that she must have a malaise of the mind. Of course it was all fake. Had she forgotten her medication? And what a shame too. I really did find her quirky nature attractive. I reached out a hand and pushed it through the nearest vase, so that my fingertips touched the wall and the vase crashed to the floor, splintering into so many pieces, that not even the highest skilled vintage specialists would be able to save its hide.

Fucking hell.

It was all real!

The water had soaked through my brand new, beige kinetic shoes, and was tinged with dead pollen from several almost dead flowers, instantly leaving a tide mark that was happily setting up camp for eternity. “Shite on a stick”  I sighed.

“I’d add a fuck, and wanking twat to that shite if I were you Inspector” the Empress growled from behind me. “That vase was a Quianlong Dynasty – 18th Century, and worth seven hundred and fifty billion pounds, give or take a penny. How much does an Inspector make salary-wise per year?”

I turned to find a deadly smile aimed in my direction. “Sixty thousand.” I replied. And then gulped. All of a sudden I wanted to cry.

“Calm yourself sir, I shall not cause you any grief over some material object, regardless of age. Please feel free to look closer at the rest of my collection.”

I peered about, but so much of it was hidden in the gloom and I didn’t feel it proper to wander about fingering her bits and bobs.

“What’s your most unusual piece?” I asked, genuinely curious about this miss-mash of priceless oddities.

“My hairy lantern”, she replied, completely straight of face. I spat the contents of my tea-cup a good two yards, hitting an ancient portrait of a fat man wearing a pork pie hat and a tutu in neon pink, straight in the eye.

We both watched as my frothy goz dripped down the surface of the expensive, oil painted canvas. I sighed again and apologised. “You say sorry to often”. She skittered over to the mantelpiece and lifted down what was indeed, a hairy lantern. The frame seemed to be covered in a pale plastic material and had thick dark hair sprouting in patches all over the place. There was a solid hairier line across the top of one edge.

“This is Liam” she murmured, combing the hirsute sides with a small brush, and then lit the candle inside using a long-handled, retro gas lighter. The lamp began to sing. Yes, sing. Some godawful music, with an accent that had the unpleasant thing pronouncing words like sunshine as ‘sunshiyeeyeeyine’.

“Wha…..” I trailed off, mesmerised by the living lantern. She said  “It’s a form of punishment. He has another two hundred years to go, and then I may release his soul, depending upon whether his attitude picks up or not.”

The lantern stopped singing and said ‘You can fuck off you fat minger!”

The Empress sighed, blew out the candle and placed a sack over the top of the lantern,  and a few muffled noises of indignation leaked out for a few seconds.

I was agog. An actual gog. What kind of hell was this place?!

It was time to get out. “I’ll speak to the Super about the vase Empress, but now I really must get to the matter in hand” I was desperate to get this over now and bolt as fast as my soaked feet would carry me. “There have been reports of a man in distress seen at this address. Oh bollocks, there I go again, always an unintentional poet – wouldn’t you know it? Heheheh.” I laughed nervously, my audience of one staring back at me as though I were the next course at dinner.

“Distress?!” She sounded incredulous. “No one is distressed here Albert, I can assure you. Not yet at least.” 

Albert. What the fuck? She knew my name? Then again, if she’d gone on to tell me my collar size and the colour of my under grundies that day I’d not have been shocked. When the Empress looks at you, her eyes don’t just bore into your face, they dive through your irises and start tap dancing across your grey matter. It was bloody horrible…and I quite liked it. No one had called me Albert since school either. I was always ‘Bert‘. I hate being called Bert. It sounds like an infection, one a cat might contract, or a foreign cheese. Or – a really fucking dull bloke basically. ‘Albert’ however sounds…as smart as I actually am.

I shook my head, trying to get her out of it and some sense back in, aiming a grasp at returning to a state I’d recognise as normality again.

My digital notepad flicked open in the air hovering before my face and I nervously read out the following;

‘On the twentieth of September 2614, A Mrs H. Kincaid said that when she happened to glance through your parlour curtains, she saw a man’s head in a jar and he was making terrible sounds of distress. She was backed up in her claims by a Ms Fanny Fortesque, who sent us a photograph taken on her hand-recorder which appears to show some kind of Halloween decoration on a bookshelf near a window making wailing noises.”

“Now I’m here, I suspect she just saw one of your, er, objects d’art shall we say, and was mistaken, so I’ll be getting off now and mark the enquiry as closed. Thank you for your time my Empress, and…”

She clamped an ice-cold hand over my mouth, and pushed me towards an alcove near the window whispering in my ear “I want to introduce you to a friend of mine Inspector.”

That one ray of sunlight I’d seen earlier was falling directly upon seven small solar panels attached to what appeared to be a human head in a glass jar. She removed her hand from my mouth.

“Albert Barnet, meet Edward Smithfiled. Edward, this is Albert”

The head swiveled its eyes towards me and said “Nice to meet you Albert. You look a little green are you feeling alright?”

I looked green. Blimey. It looked so real. No, it WAS real. It was fucking real. I’ve seen restored photographs of shrunken human heads from ancient times, but they were just that – shrunken. This one was full size. It was also one of the most horrible items I’ve ever had the misfortune to set my eyes on. One half of the face was a normal bloke’s visage, not bad-looking I suppose, very intense eyes, pale as a ghost mind, but some people would be keen I’m sure, and sporting a well-trimmed beard. The rest of his head and face was just a fucking mess. I mean it was falling apart, no skin, muscles hanging off here and there in long tatty white and pink strings, a huge section of jaw and cheek bone jutting out and the whole of the top of his head was just missing, so his brain sat there pulsing away in front of me like a big sloppy snake nest.

Edward apparently. Edward Smithfield! I knew who he was!

The idea of preserving brain consciousness is not new, its been going on forever and a day, but all you see is the uploaded data from the person in question. Not their rotting head. During my training I researched a famous police case from centuries past. Few know of it now, I just happen to be a bit of a history buff. ‘The case of the missing brain’ it was called. Some scientific institute was experimenting on prolonging consciousness after death, and they named their endeavours ‘The Eternal Preservation Project’, offering the glory of eternal life in order to get some willing Guinea pigs in human form to come running. And it worked as well. And they did start out with the poor sods actual flesh and bone heads in glass containers. It turned out to be incredibly successful, the technology implemented being entirely reliant on solar power alone. Sadly there was a terrible fire one night, and all the brains burnt to ash barring one. Apparently some young girl had taken a fancy to one brain, visited him every day for years, and so when the catastrophe occurred, she was close enough to the institute to save him, disappearing off into the night with his head in its glass container, tucked under her arm, never to be heard of again. It was assumed the brain in the jar perished shortly afterwards. The man’s name was Edward Smithfield.

I looked at Edward. He looked at me. I said I was fair to middling considering a head in a jar was talking to me. In reality I was barely capable at this point of coherent speech being so freaked out by the day’s events up to now.

Edward said “Now, I have a bone to pick with you Inspector. Noises of distress?! Noises of DISTRESS?! I was bloody well singing! What the actual fuck?! I’m highly insulted Albert, I have to say!”

The Empress turned to me, “He sounds rather distressed now though doesn’t he?” She snorted with laughter. “And yet usually, he’s perfectly happy here with me. He’s just a very shit singer! Hahahahaha” booming that laugh at me again.

Edward gave the Empress a cold stare.

She turned to me and said “Of course you must stay now Albert. For your own good…and mine.”
I felt the room begin to spin and then realised it actually WAS spinning, as a tea-cup and saucer with ‘Frankie Says “RELAX”‘ embossed upon them, flew past my face off a Welsh dresser and smashed to shards on the hearth before me.

I stumbled sideways into an armchair as the Empress walked perfectly steadily across the floorboards towards me, then whipped one of the deadly looking fountain pens out of her beautiful, fuzzy, towering mop, and stabbed me sharply in the chest with it as she leant in, and kissed me forcefully on the lips.

The thought flashed through my mind that though I often find women confusing, this took the whole arena to a completely new level of bonkers. She drew back, and I recall thinking her aroma reminded me of petunias, then my eyes blurred, everything began to darken, and I heard the following conversation take place before I blacked out;

“You’re going to eat his heart aren’t you Em? Like all the rest. Don’t do it, I like this one!”

“HAHAHAHAHAHA. Am I so very predictable Edward? Hmm. Well, you’re wrong. There’s something you don’t know about Albert, and he doesn’t remember…we’ve met before. That personality of his is no implant either. I’ve waited ever-so many years to find him, and now I have, I do not intend to let him go again without one hell of a fight.”

“Hey misses, It’s hardly a slur to assume you’d be eating his heart for tea, I mean come on, we both know it’s an unfortunate weakness of yours. The only reason I’m still alive is because I haven’t got one, and don’t think I’m not very aware of that!”

“Oh Edward, please don’t get a monk on, don’t be pissed off with me, I really can’t help that, it’s genetic, you know it is, and I do love your company. I promise, had I met you when you were whole, I’d have put your head in a jar straight away myself, and not even nibbled at your medulla oblongata. I’d certainly not have killed you.”

“Well, humph, yes…that’s a very nice thing to say, for I am terribly fond of you too Em. I couldn’t have wished for better hands to be left in by my Joseema. I realise that now.”

“Tears I see now. Oh Edward, don’t upset yourself, I know she’ll be back for you one day, one day soon I’m sure, and then I’ll be all alone again, in the vastness of eternity. So…I’m going to prepare Albert to sit in your place when you have departed. The practical side is no problem, I’ve been a scientist for several hundred years as you know, the tricky part will be getting him to get to accept the situation…and accept me.”

“How could any sane man resist you Em?!”

“You are a charmer Ed. Even with no body and half a face.”

“I’ll do everything I can to talk Albert round, acclimatise him Em. It’s very tricky what with him not actually making the choice himself, but I’ll give it my best shot. For you.”

“Thank you my friend, I will say…”

…And that’s the last thing I remember hearing before waking up here, in a cold cellar that looks like some kind of laboratory, tied to some rusting pipes with metal cable ties. There’s a large glass jar on the table that looks just about big enough for a head…

My mother always said I keep everything bottled up…bollocks.

(end of transmission)

This transmission is linked to two previous ones

 Simulcast Fragment – 1542838 – Edward Smithfield – Jarring
Simulcast Fragment – 772321 – Fran Cardis – Missing.

For those who are new to the Cloud, please read the information at the following link regarding the Simulcast Fragments. Thank you – sonmi