Sunday, 24 March 2013

The Sphericon

The Dean placed his eye close to the telescope at the window of his apartment at Greenwich, and watched a young couple enter a pub on the riverbank. His thoughts turned to Guinness and - perhaps - some sort of pie which could be had there later in the day.

On his desk was a letter from his friend, the Abbot, who had invited him to stay as his guest for the weekend. He had stayed at the abbey on numerous occasions, but the tone of the Abbot's latest invitation had an unmistakable sense of desperation to it and, if reading between the lines, the Dean could almost sense a cry for help - most uncharacteristic of the normally self-confident, not to say bombastic cleric. In any event, the vast, flat floor of the Chapter House would be an ideal place to test out his latest machine.

After many months and many prototypes, the Dean had begun to think that he may have become close to perfection, but the floor of his living room had too many obstacles to allow the machine to run any longer than a few moments without coming to a stop against the leg of a chair or table, and even if he were to completely clear it, there was not enough space between the walls to for it to lurch around for more than a few minutes.

He had got the idea from some Mexican Jumping-Bean toys, bought from a joke-shop in Tottenham Court Road, and when similar devices were fitted to the corners of a carefully cut, perfectly geometrical shape, the little object rolled around the floor as if by magic, making soft clicking noises as the variably weighted ball-bearings slipped through hidden valves as it reeled from one side to the other.

That Saturday night at the abbey, the dinner was infused with a jovial, almost celebratory atmosphere which belied the impending sense of dread hidden within the abbot's invitation, and the food was extraordinarily good - so good, in fact, that the Dean could not recollect ever having eaten better and he marvelled at the five-star quality which the abbey's kitchen had somehow miraculously achieved.

The all-male guests had included an estate agent and a French, minor celebrity chef, and the Dean had suspected the chef's involvement in the transformation of perfectly ordinary ingredients into the superb, three-course banquet which they had all speechlessly enjoyed.

It might have been the second helping of the suet pudding - floating on a small sea of good, red wine - which kept the Dean awake that night, but long after the others had retired to their cells, he made his way down the draughty corridors and across the cloisters to the Chapter House, his dressing gown blowing open and allowing the wind to enter the front vent of his pyjamas, which inflated like the sails of a ship. It was a relief to close the heavy oak door behind him and switch on a single light, hanging from the rafters of the massive, octagonal stone room.

Walking to the centre of the room, he placed the sphericon on the smooth stone slabs and gave it a little push. The expenditure of that tiny amount of energy set the thing in motion, and it began a series of rhythmical, up and down movements as it described a tortuous, ever-increasing, circular journey toward the outer walls, clicking each time it refreshed itself.

The Dean settled himself on the cold stone seat of one of the niches which ran around the periphery, and pulled his dressing gown tighter around himself. It was - he hoped - going to be a long night.

After about ten minutes of listening to the echoes of the sphericon's progress, the clock-like ticking began to have a soporific effect on the Dean, and he finally succumbed to the sleep which had eluded him in his cell only twenty minutes before.

He did not know how long he had been asleep when a voice from another alcove woke him with a start.

He looked up to see a monk, seated as he was and staring at the little sphericon from under a thick, grey cowl which covered all of his head and most of his features. The monk's nose was grotesquely large, and it protruded from the front of the hood, moving a little as he spoke.

When the monk looked up, the Dean was shocked to see that the man's chin was almost as long as his nose, and it curved upward so that the distance between them could have only amounted to a couple of inches at most. The monk looked exactly like Mr Punch, and the Dean did not remember ever having seen or met him in all the years he had been coming to the abbey.

Having politely expressed his hope that he had not disturbed his nocturnal devotions, the Dean began to question the monk as to how long he had been there, and what his duties mainly consisted of.

The monk replied that his waking hours were spent running the gift-shop. The Dean had not been aware that the abbey even had a gift shop, and became suspicious that the man was some sort of mad intruder who had made his way into the abbey grounds under the cover of darkness. He planned to keep the monk talking whilst he decided on a course of action to alert the brothers to the intruder, but before had even asked, the monk began listing every item sold in the gift-shop - one by one - confirming the Dean's doubts about his sanity.

The stock list had gone from astrolabes to incense to tea-towels with printed pictures of the carp-pond - in alphabetical order - when the monk stood up and began to approach the Dean in his niche.

He was enormously tall, with great, bony hands which hung from beneath the sleeves of his habit like bunches of white bananas, and he moved closer to the Dean, his feet falling on the stone slabs in time with the clicking of the sphericon. The list grew longer and the ticking grew louder. The man had evil intent, and his back to the door. There was no escape.

The monk could get no closer to the Dean without treading on his feet, and as he bent down and moved his great red face to within inches of the Dean's own, the sphericon suddenly stopped.

The effect of the cessation of clicks in the huge room was like a gun going off, and it awoke the Dean with a terrible start, as if his heart had missed a beat.

The room was empty, save for the little sphericon in it's centre, lying forlornly and motionless on one side. The Dean arose stiffly, and walking over to the little gadget, he picked it up and put it in his pocket before making his way back to his cell, having turned the Chapter House light out and closed the door behind him.


  1. "Bombastic cleric" the only kind to keep company with.

    Best descriptice phrase goes to
    "He was enormously tall, with great, bony hands which hung from beneath the sleeves of his habit like bunches of white bananas,"
    Love that.

    1. I thought twice about using the old 'bunch of bananas' comparison for the hands, but if you liked it, that's fine!

    2. I liked that too.... It's something I would have written

    3. And he had ......... like Scotch eggs.

    4. Scotch eggs for balls - now there's a thought...

  2. I was on the edge of my seat..

  3. Dark, chilling and unnerving ..... I even think a few strands of my hair stood on end and one of those white banana fingers ran down my spine !!
    I think that we are in for a few twists and turns in future chapters . XXXX

  4. That joke shop.... it must have been Ellisdon's.

    1. there was a massive one there when I was a kid, and probably still is. I used to go to London just to visit it.

    2. I used to go to one in London .... near Marshall Street I think. I used to buy telescopes that gave you a black eye, black soap, itching powder and then try them all out on my family !!!! I was a naughty girl .... still am !!!!

    3. I bet you are. I sort of know you are.