I wasn’t sure I was in the puzzle until I bumped into a young man on the trail I was taking to the beach.
“Excuse me, can you help me?” he said. “I’m looking for the town centre.”
Then he put his hand up to his mouth and laughed a thin, reedy laugh. One of the thirty-six signs of the puzzle. I kept a straight face. I didn’t want the puzzle to know that I knew I was in the puzzle.
“Keep going in the opposite direction to me and you’ll get there,” I said.
“Thank you,” the young man said. “It’s a good day for the beach, I can see that. Perhaps I’m going the wrong way, after all.”
“No doubt you’ll find out when you get there,” I said.
“Yes,” he said.
He did move off. I felt the puzzle’s grip lessening. I found I could think again. I’ve heard that you can sing nursery rhymes to yourself, thereby confusing the puzzle, keeping it busy, as it were, so that it doesn’t interfere so much with you. I sang Humpy Dumpty. I tried not to think of the beach but clutched my towel a little bit tighter.
I was coming up to the tunnels. The puzzle would be strong there. It is wont to send you the wrong way. You go down through one tunnel, then up, then down through a second tunnel, when you come up out of that you have to keep to the left, but already the puzzle had me wanting to veer to the right.
Humpty Dumpty! Humpty Dumpty!
I just managed to keep on track. But he was back. The young man with the reedy voice.
“This beach?” he said.
“What beach?” I said.
“Oh, I thought you said you were going to the beach?”
“Oh, that! Why, that was so long ago it might as well have been in another lifetime!” I said.
“Only, I thought …” the young man said.
He stumbled. You don’t see the puzzle stumble, but it could have been a trick.
“Only, I thought, the town on a day like this, it doesn’t make much sense, does it?” he said.
Maybe he wasn’t the puzzle, after all. Just somebody trapped inside it like me.
“Well, I might still go,” I said, “but right now I’m heading for the Spar mini-market. Keep the railway lines on the right-hand side.”
“Stop there for provisions, do you?” he said. “Provisions for the beach?”
I patted my blue shoulder bag.
“No, I’ve got sandwiches, a couple of biscuits, and a bottle of water with me,” I said.
“I might just do that, stop off at the Spar for provisions,” he said.
Now, that’s typical puzzle talk, that is. I’d said nothing about provisions. He smiled at me and then walked on ahead, briskly. Briskly! As though one can walk briskly through the puzzle! Well, it just can’t be done. Briskly will get you lost at double-quick speed. Only the puzzle itself would dream of moving briskly.
And there! He’s gone! Round the bend already. I bet you, when I get up there and turn, I won’t be able to see him. But supposing he is there? I turn the corner and he’s there staring me in the face, laughing at me. No, it would be best to turn around and head back. But where was back? What had I said to him? The town, that was it! I’d head for town.
Humpty Dumpty! Humpty Dumpty!
Anthony Kane Evans has had around sixty short stories published in various UK, French, US, Canadian and Australian literary journals, e-zines, and anthologies. Journals include London Magazine (UK), Orbis Quarterly International Literary Journal (UK), The Tusculum Review (US), and The Antigonish Review (Canada). Though born in the UK, he lives in Copenhagen where he has made several documentary films for the Danish Broadcasting Corporation.
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