I didn’t know what to do. I was frozen between the window and the door. A group of people whose home I had been inside only half an hour before were being stuffed into a police van. What are you supposed to do? My Watcher was still looking at me, its face neutral but attentive. It casually stroked its developing hair.
“What? What is it that you want me to do?” I stared back, my insides a mass of twists and knots.
“Is this a fucking test?” I asked.
A test of what? Loyalty – to whom? I didn’t even know why I thought I was being tested. How awesomely egotistical. It’s as bad as the insane religious ideas about our tiny planet being of the least consequence in the universe. A family upstairs being arrested for something, god knows what. Criminal damage? You can’t throw kids in a police van. How hideously traumatic. When I was eleven my uncle gave me a birthday card, in which he’d copied out that poem by Martin Niemoller, everyone knows the one. It starts with “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Socialist”. It’s a great poem, and I didn’t understand why my uncle had felt strongly enough about it to stick it in my birthday card. I never got the chance to ask him. It’s one of those things that comes to me when I’m tired, or when I’m watching the news. That poem is about everything. It rang in my head like a bell.
I could feel a rising bar of pressure in my body, ironing out the curdling tensions. I get that sometimes – a weird high of possibility, like there’s a perfect action to take – a decision I can make and make right. Admittedly I also get it for day dreams. When I was about nine I remember being on a car journey and fixating on the idea of being a boxer. I didn’t become a boxer, it didn’t seem like a great move. But that sense of elation and racing along the probability curve towards actuality is such an odd sensation. My decision is what to do with it. I can allow to push me into action, or I can just relish the feeling. Either way I was getting it now, and when it feels like life is stretching for those peaks I’ve more often regretted not leaping than standing still.
I looked out of the window again. Alison’s husband was resisting, and consequently had half a dozen police officers holding him down in an awful looking restraint pose. I couldn’t see Alison anymore, but I could see the little boy who had claimed ‘Spider-Man’ as his call sign. They had pinned his hands behind his back with those zip ties. Presumably the hand cuffs didn’t come in a size that small. The shock of it was competing with all the emotions evoked by Niemoller’s poem. When you’re arresting little children then you’ve failed at everything in society. I slammed my palm on the window pane in frustration. All the Watchers turned to look at our building. I couldn’t see their eyes, but it felt like they were looking straight at me. I felt like a ball being bounced between two hard staring surfaces, like I was standing between two mirrors trying to catch sight of the reflection far down the regress where I’m waving at myself. I could hardly breathe. I acted.
I jumped over the books in my path and tore open the front door. I charged out and immediately found myself in the midst of yet more police officers. I immediately regretted acting. Thankfully my mouth can keep working even when I can’t.
“Hey what’s going on?” It’s not the finest opening gambit, but it did start the conversation.
The police officers were the big kind. You get those ones who look like normal people, but the ones they send out for door kicking are the big lads. The boots, stab vests and assorted ephemera velcroed all over them seems to scale them up an extra ten percent. One of them tried to take hold of my arm and I snatched it away.
“There’s no need for that. I just want to know what’s going on.”
They all turned inward, so that I was in the middle of a rainbow of stern faces and high visibility yellow.
“Best you go back inside your flat”
“Okay… look, I really just want to know what’s happening. There’s a lot of noise.”
“It’s not your concern sir, you need to return to your flat.”
“Do you make a habit of interfering with police investigations?”
“Are you alone sir?”
“Can I take your name please sir?”
“Is there anything you’d like to tell us about your neighbours?”
I couldn’t even tell which of the officers had spoken.
“Hey, I’m not getting in your way – you’re in my hallway.”
“Please don’t get aggressive sir.”
I was maybe a foot away from the intruding crescent, who were somehow becoming even more intimidating. I have a problem with being told what to do. It really annoys me when I’m told not to do something that is entirely reasonable. This is rarely a positive trait, but I was still getting that rising high of doing the thing and just went with it.
“Right – one, don’t crowd me. It’s aggressive and unnecessary. This is my house, give me some space. Two, you’ve smashed in our front door. I’m pretty sure you now need to fix it, or find me someone who will. Three, what are you doing arresting Alison and her kids? You can’t arrest children, where’s your social services officer? I’ve just watched you lot handcuff two kids under the age of five. I don’t doubt that is completely illegal, so maybe you should back off from threatening me and answer the damn question.”
Okay, it wasn’t as coherent as I would have liked, but that rising band of light was making my fingers tingle and my stomach weightless. The police officers looked surprised that I had spoken, and incredibly pissed off at the same time. That’s when I got grabbed by the two officers standing on either side of me. A really tight grip, where they grabbed me under each arm and sort of twisted me upright.
“You can either go back in your flat right now, or come with us.”
“That’s really tempting, thanks for the offer,” my face felt like it was vibrating now, a glow of fear and anger, “how about you get the fuck off me and let the little children you’re abusing out of the van?”
Apparently that wasn’t an option. This is classic resisting arrest and interfering in police business. That tight hold they had on me becomes excruciating very easily. I only got hit once, and that was in the stomach. Presumably that’s the easiest way to get someone to shut up, just knock the wind out of them. It works. I was convinced that I was going to be arrested, and that whole glow I’d had was rather tarnished by becoming actualised. I was sagging in their arms, trying hard to catch a breath. Having asthma is amazing. It’s completely unnoticeable for me until something like this happens. Laughing a lot also achieves the same utterly empty and raging lungs. The panic just floods through me. I know that I can control asthma attacks, but that involves chilling out and being calm. Being suspended between two police officers looking for a further reason to pacify me was not conducive to thwarting an asthma attack. I thought I was probably going to take a few kicks as well before they cuffed me, and while trying not to panic about not breathing I was also trying to prepare for getting beaten up.
I was abruptly dropped to the ground and I lay there gasping. The ring of boots moved back. Right back. About half of my vision had gone black. It’s okay – that’s something I’ve gotten used to in combinations of asthma attacks and migraines. I just needed to sit down for a bit. I didn’t know why they had backed up, I was just grateful. Not grateful in the sense that I would have thanked them – it was still their fault. It’s not like being grateful for a surprise cup of tea. Grateful is clearly the wrong word – relieved is how I felt. I flinched when a hollow white foot came down in front me. It’s possible that I wasn’t feeling able to place all of my trust in the police. My Watcher stepped over my prone body and stood there, tall and quiet. I’m not ashamed to admit that I scrabbled back into the flat behind my apparent protector. The police receded out of sight with barely a grumble and the front door swung back and clattered against the frame on its single remaining hinge. Their boots crunched down the road. Alison’s family were no longer making any noise.
The Watcher followed me back into the flat. I’d achieved a crouching scuttle to the breakfast bar where I wheezed and tried to calm down. A hand appeared in front of me. It held the comforting blue disk of my Salbutamol inhaler. I took it, exhaled as fully as I could and welcomed the fine white powder into my lungs. The black patches in my vision blurred back into real colours and things. I slumped into my seat, breathing.
There are terrifying things about being assaulted by someone in a position of authority. No matter how sure you are that you did nothing wrong (or at least nothing beyond your rights or that infringed on theirs) and that their response was unprovoked and disproportionate, we’re trained to trust and defer to these people. Having that faith betrayed in person is damaging. Despite everything I’ve read in newspapers and seen in real life, I’d retained a basic trust that they were there to protect me and those around me. Today’s events suggested strongly that the balance of power and protection might have shifted significantly. As I regained the ability to breathe (relieved remember, definitely not grateful) this was the emotional predicament I found myself in. Frazzled by the adrenaline fight or flight reflexes, which I hadn’t even had a chance to employ before ending up on the floor, plus the previous light excitement, oxygen deprivation (slight, but I like my oxygen intake) and the shaking fear that comes of crossing the man, especially in this present fucked up Event all I had left was a whirl of nausea.
“Okay,” I began, resting my face on the breakfast bar, “I’m starting to think that something weird is going on.”
It was disappointing to find once again that the amazing sensation of lightness when pressing the buttons of probability isn’t an indication that what’s coming up is a moment of power and positivity. I had to wonder if this was what people who thought they were psychics or prophets experienced, but drew completely different conclusions from. Confirmation bias is a wonderful thing. In time I’d no doubt consign this experience to the list of ‘bad, but doesn’t count’ and return to the more hopeful expectation. People.
“Come on. You can’t just stand there after apparently saving me from some good old fashioned police brutality and say nothing.”
My Watcher remained predictably silent.
“Awesome. Okay, so I’ll talk shall I? I’ll tell you what I know. Well, alright then. I know pretty much nothing. You show up, you follow me around. That’s happening to everyone. Someone- ”
I wanted answers, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know that the Watcher knew or not. An interesting effect of being watched is that I started to lose track of what the Watcher knew and didn’t know that I had done. It was tempting to assume that not only was it watching me, it also and already knew everything else about me, including what I had done and found out while it was away. It was also tempting to assume that the Watchers didn’t somehow communicate with each other. But if they did, then my Watcher should already have known about Alison’s family hacking up a bunch of them. Which meant it knew why they had been arrested. If so, why intervene in my case? It could only be because it didn’t know that I knew about Alison, and especially specifically that I had a Spider-Man walkie talkie dismantled in my toiletries. So I should be safe. Ish. Depending on what I did or didn’t reveal. Of course, if they did know what I knew and were just playing with me, to see what choice I would make then my withholding information to protect Alison and myself was the worst thing I could do. But if they didn’t know about the connection then my telling them would make things worse for Alison (probably) and possibly better for me… Too many ifs, buts and maybes to make a decision. I required a different tactic, hell, a whole different life would be preferable. Essentially my whole mind was screaming “what the fuck”, which makes it difficult to clearly articulate a thought.
“- Someone did a bad thing to that little Watcher. It makes sense that its someone in the building, and the police figured it was Alison or her her husband. So they arrest them. Fine. What’s that got to do with you?”
My Watcher reclined against the fridge and loosely folded its arms. That’s a pose I well recognise from both myself and Katherine. I imagine living together for a long time blends your gestures and you naturally end up mirroring each other. Both my dad and sister stand by the sink and gesticulate while talking in hilariously similar ways. So I knew this pose, it was the ‘well done, you’re half way there, now figure out the rest’. It’s infuriating.
“No. You are not me, so don’t use me against me. I don’t know what you are. I know you appeared magically in the middle of the night and scared the crap out of me. Followed me around all day, started doing your own thing. Okay. I get that. You’re learning, you’re figuring out how to do things like walk and drink and put up a book case. Amazing. These are trivial things, our own children learn them and do it fine. I’ll grant you’re a bit quicker, but you started off bigger too.”
I was beginning to think that I’d failed to take the whole thing seriously enough. A weird shadow stranger in my home who spills tea on the floor – fine. Fine… Probably shouldn’t have been fine.
“Alright. So am I abnormal? Is that it – most people freak out like Alison’s lot did, but I didn’t so I’m, what – safe? Conveniently passive? Is that why you stopped the police from arresting me… because I’m more use to you here than in a police cell?”
The Watcher raised its eyebrows. When did it get eyebrows? I was not paying attention. I’d been in a daydream all day. Was any of this real? I felt the room sway around me, like I was the fixed point in the room and everything else was bent spinning vinyl. There were too many questions I didn’t know how to ask.
“I let you into my life. I didn’t have to. I could have refused. I could have stood in the corner and screamed all day. And what happens then?”
I felt like I was on the cusp of something grand, something huge and terrifying, but I couldn’t quite grasp it. It might have been that the room was moving like glue around me and that the more I looked at my Watcher the more I saw details and features I hadn’t seen. I fell back off my chair, caught myself with a hand on the floor with an incredible jolt up my arm. I always land on right wrist, it has so many healed fractures it’s more break than bone. The pain shocked the room back into unmoving clarity, every corner and edge sparkling with pinpricks of light. I got back to my feet and staggered back, cradling my hand. I was fairly sure I hadn’t broken it because I know exactly how that feels, and this just hurt a lot.
My face was twisted in a mask of confusion and fear, I could feel the half sneer half snarl drawing up my mouth. The Watcher, my Watcher – my own image replicated in waxy form right in front of me – it detached itself from the fridge with the same fluid motion I’d employ, curving its back to bounce off with its shoulders. It slowly approached me, hands extended. Its fingernails were perfect, cropped exactly as badly and carelessly as mine, wedding ring firmly in place, rotating slightly as its hand came up. Everything about it seemed perfect and huge, swollen beyond recognition filling up my vision. Eyebrows: each hair cleanly defined, its eyes had proper lids and irises painted out in white relief. I couldn’t go back any further, I’d met the wall.
“Jesus, what the fuck are you? What is this?” I cried out, half tears of fear and half of confused anger.
The Watcher stepped close, opened its arms wide and folded them around me. I screamed in shock and horror at the contact. Its waxy rubber was warm against my skin. Its arms slid all the way around me and squeezed. I shook, and struggled, fighting to get its arms away from me, to keep its face from mine. The world was white and terrifying. It felt as if everything dimmed while simultaneously becoming infinitely bright. I couldn’t move. Not my arms, not my feet. Not my eyes, stretched wide unable to hide away. The Watcher was everything. I was overwhelmed, sobbing, my chest full, brimming with choking tears.
I gave in. I collapsed into the Watcher’s embrace. And cried, for the first time in such a long time.