Rob escaped the bedsit without attracting the attention of Tommo, Baz and Wayne. He needed to be out, but not in the pub. He found himself outside the library and saw it was open for another thirty minutes. Should he? Was nerding around in the library the same as nerding around in his bedsit? His craving got the better of him and he soon found himself seated at one of the computers. Jonty's name still appeared in the adult Authors Section but not as frequently. Had Jonty grew out of his nerdism? Rob genuinely hoped not. The world needed people like Jonty in it and yes, that was kept as a private thought.
"Managing?" A woman's voice startled Rob and he was hugely relieved to see a non-fantasy character replacing books on a shelf.
"Yes thanks." Rob adopted a slouch and clicked off the Authors page. "You new here?" Oh lame, Rob! Lame!
"Started a month ago. Mr. Harmon retired." That would be Michael.
"I used to come in more when my nan was alive, not so much now. Jean?" Rob read the librarian's name badge and wondered just how lame he was going to get. "I'm Rob." Just a bit more.
"Jean Docherty." She shook Rob's hand. "Customers are getting thin round here. You should drop in more often."
"I could just do that, yes." Rob smiled. Jean smiled back and wandered back to the front desk.
"Recovered, I see?" A familiar voice behind him made Rob freeze. "She's a bit skinny."
"No. Just no." Rob managed to shake his head and click his screen back on. He could see Stepney's reflection through the monitor and his hands started to shake. "I'm ill. I must be. I knew I shouldn't have come in here." He muttered.
"Oh you aren't ill. Man up." Stepney sniffed and walked round to sit on the desk, next to the monitor.
"Man up? What sort of language is that? Lawlims don't speak Hood." Rob cringed when he realised what he was doing. "You're not real. You're not real. You're not real."
"And that's getting a bit old. Give the scarecrow a shout. I'll introduce myself." Stepney shrugged.
"Scarecrow? The librarian?" Rob laughed quietly. "That's a bit bitchy, Stepney. I'll do no such thing. She'll think she's alone in the building with a bloody lunatic. She is alone in the building with a lunatic." Rob switched off the computer and stood up. "I'm off Miss Docherty. Nice meeting you." Jean smiled again and watched Rob leave.
Rob sighed in relief when his figment didn't follow him and he almost ran the half mile back to his bedsit. He dashed into his room and slammed the door, then froze again. Stepney was standing in his room, watching television.
"You monster!" Stepney shouted at Rob.
"Not again!" Rob wailed. "Stepney leave me alone. Please! I'll go and get something off the doctor. I still think some tosser spiked my drink."
"How can you be so casual about it! How can you ignore them?" Stepney exclaimed.
"OK I'll go along with it for now, the doctor's is closed. I'll use it all as inspiration. Why have you got your drawers in a knot? Yes I do mean your underwear."
"How dare you! I'm the High Priestess of Dinsen the Wise and my underwear is ... sacred!" Stepney shouted in outrage.
"And you say I make no sense." Rob sat on the bed and pulled off his boots. "Why am I a monster?" He rephrased.
"That!" Stepney pointed at the television where Justin Bieber and his dancers were prancing across the screen.
"Ugh. Yes I suppose that is a bit monstrous. Turn it over." Rob suggested, sitting himself in his only armchair. Stepney looked at him quizzically for a few seconds, then grabbed the television. "What are you doing? You'll break it, you psycho!" Rob jumped to his feet as Stepney struggled with the television set.
"If turning this box over will free those little people then that's what I'll do!" Stepney shouted.
"Huh? Oh! No, Stepney, no." Rob laughed and tried to take the television from her. She clutched it more tightly. "It's a television. Those aren't little people in a box."
"Yes they are. I can see them." Stepney peered over the top of the set. "Poor things. That one sounds like he's in such pain. Free them, now!"
"OK." Rob walked over and clicked the power button. The screen went black. Stepney put down the set and began scanning the floor. "They aren't there Stepney. There are no little people. Them on the screen are full sized people like me and you ... like me. I'm not sure of the details but they'll be performing on a stage somewhere, a full sized stage."
"Theatre?" Stepney didn't look convinced.
"Yes, theatre. As well as people in the stalls watching them there's also a team of blokes with cameras. Umm cameras." Rob frowned in thought. "A camera is a device that can store images, like that lot on there, then send it out to television sets, like that one."
"Bollocks." Stepney snorted and Rob almost fell over.
"Stepney! Bollocks? High Priestesses don't say bollocks! Anyway, it's not bollocks. If I turn that telly back on, the images will still be there. If I press another button, it'll switch channels and there'll be different images with different actors." Rob tried to explain. Stepney put down the television and nodded. "You sure? I promise you that there are no little people in there and there's nothing to get all pissy about. Yes?" Rob switched the set back on. "Oh and he always sounds in pain. He's OK." He switched channels and hoped there wasn't an action 'shoot em up' film on. "Here we go. BBC news. This tells you what's going on in the world. Depressing as sod if you ask ... "
"Where's the rest of her?" Stepney was fascinated with the pretty newsreader's face and shoulders on the screen.
"The camera will be up close to her. Here." Rob tipped a box of pens out and opened both ends of the box. "Look through that at me. If you're close, you only get my mug in it. See? You get more of me if you stand further back."
"Yes I see." Stepney roved around the tiny bedsit like Steven Spielberg. "And those images on the nelly are of this realm?"
"Telly. Yes. I told you it was depressing." Rob nodded.
"It does look rather bleak." Stepney agreed. "May I look at this to learn?"
"Feel free." Rob nodded at the chair then made himself comfortable on the bed.
Rob woke up at 3am and an Asian news program was on the television. There was no sign of any figments or of any little people. Rob exhaled loudly and went to turn the television off. What was happening to him? Still struggling with the drink? Even with just beer? That had to be it because he hadn't really done anything else except work on his project. So all this weird stuff was a combination of being a drunken sot and nerdism, Rob reasoned. Stop the drink and stop the project and that would sort that. Rob crawled back into bed and gradually drifted off into a fitful sleep.
Rob felt tired and grouchy the next day. He was tired, stressed out and bored. Tommo hadn't helped by bashing at the door just to tell Rob that him and Baz were going to a rugby match. Rugby? Bloody rugby? Football maybe, but rugby? Rob swore at him and closed the door. Next he heard the door close, then saw Wayne sauntering by the window arm in arm with a girl. He reckoned she must have been visually impaired, then switched on the telly. Cash in the Attic was just getting interesting when the water pipes started up with their stuttering din. Rob swore horribly and turned the volume up. It wasn't until he'd sat back down that a thought struck him. Who was in the shower? Everyone was out, except for Rob.
"No, Rob. Sod that for a lark. Those pipes are a million years old. No." He muttered and tried to concentrate on the antiques. The pipes made a noise like the QE2 and Rob leapt from his chair and lunged at the door. He marched up the stairs and booted the bathroom door open.
"Rob! I was just about to come and see you." Stepney was peering up at the shower head. "Where does the water come from?"
"I ... I can't cope with this." Rob stumbled along the landing and down the stairs.
"Is there anything on the welly about that water disc?" Stepney followed him into his room. "I have a painting like that in The Den." She nodded to the television where the Dickson family had unearthed a watercolour in a gaudy gold coloured frame.
"This has to stop." Rob switched off the telly and turned to look at his beautiful lead character. "The Den. Right? Your family home built on the cliffs overlooking the Sea of Stars. There's a thin, winding path that leads from your gardens, right down to the beach, not that anyone in their right mind uses that path, even in daylight. How am I doing?"
"Very well." Stepney sat on the armchair. "Dinsen has obviously shown you glimpses of our realm."
"Stepney I made the sodding realm! Are you listening to me? I created Sheltion, Lawlim and everything in it. I know ever inch of the place, including your picture. It's supposed to be a copy of Van Gogh's Sunflowers. Your room is painted blue,Fenton, your brother, is five years younger than you and his room is painted dark green. McLintock, who is totally awesome by the way, lives in a one story building in the grounds of The Den. I can describe every single thing in that realm but I don't have to." Rob opened the drawer and took out his drawings. "You're in there, so is Fenton and so is McLintock. The Den, the shaded orchard, the gardens of fragrance. There's the firefly forest and whitesands. Here we have the jetty that's used to send fishing boats to the Isle of Dogs. I drew them all Stepney. I named every one of you, and everything in your realm. You are not real." Rob sighed in exasperation and flopped down on the bed.
"These are exceptional. You're very talented." Stepney complimented.
"Thanks. So you don't doubt that that's you? Fenton?" Rob asked and Stepney shrugged her shoulders and smiled. "So how do you explain that? I drew those months ago to go with a story. That story is set in Sheltion and I made the bugger up!"
"It's not my place to explain things but I assume Dinsen the Wise made you privy to scenes of my world. I said that earlier." Stepney said patiently and Rob flung up his hands in sheer exasperation.
"Why?" He shot. "Why me and why send you here?"
"I don't know." Stepney sighed heavily. "I performed a Scrying Rite and Dinsen showed me you. She also infused my cuffs with the necessary magic to get me here, and us back."
"Oi! Hang on a bit. Back? Back to Lawlim? This is one weird arsed breakdown. So you can take me to Sheltion? Don't talk tripe, Stepney." Rob shook his head.
"Of course I can. It's a good job it's me and not Fenton. He was all for knocking you out and dragging you there. I told him to knob off. I don't coerce people like that." Stepney said aloofly.
"No you just send them round the bend and clerics don't say knob off." Rob said dryly. "So you don't know why you're aggravating me?"
"I not aggravating you. Well not much. Lawlim is dying and Din ..."
"What?" Rob blinked a few times. "No it isn't. I'd know if it was, believe me."
"Because you created us all, yes I know." Stepney said sarcastically. "I don't know why Dinsen wants you but she does. Lawlim wants you. The goddess will make things clear as she sees fit. Obviously I'm not meant to know of your role, not at this time."
"No, of course not." Rob rolled his eyes. "So why do you think the realm is dying?"
"Not the realm, Lawlim. We're losing our magic." Stepney said sadly. "Our bloodlines are growing weak and our children are born sickly. My clerics are exhausted with maintaining the barrier because very few citizens have the magic to help. If our barrier goes, we're at the mercy of aggressors. You'd think they'd have sodded off after ten years." She said miserably.
"How come you swear so much? Woman of godess and all that?" Rob smiled just because Stepney looked so miserable.
"I watched you quite alot and copied the language in order to fit in here. McLintock thinks it's funny." Stepney smiled too. "I was hoping Dinsen would have given me further instruction but my Scryers remain still. I wish she'd get on with it."
"Very reverent." Rob snickered. "Stepney do you see why I can't believe you? You've seen our realm on the news. No gods goddesses or magic and no other worlds. People don't just spring into life from sheets of paper and those sheets of paper are all from here." He tapped his temple. "I can't explain your presence other than I'm not functioning too well just now. I'm not well and I didn't realise. I wanted you to be alive so much that my weird brain finally gave in and let me have my wish. The only thing is, Stepney, it's my wish and no one else's. You only exist to me and no one else can even see you. Shame really. Those three gits would be as jealous as all hell." He smiled weakly at Stepney's expression of utter dejection.
"Why would Dinsen leave me with so few answers to give? I do exist. Lawlim exists. Sheltion exists. I only know that we won't for long if you don't play a part in my realm. Is there nothing in your pictures to help?" Stepney asked desperately and all Rob could do was shake his head. "And I can't force you from your home. I'll return to Lawlim and seek council from Dinsen the Wise. This must be all part of her design." She stood up and raised her arms. "Your pictures are lovely. Thank you." Stepney touched her wrist cuffs together and Rob watched in utter astonishment as she shimmered, faded and disappeared.
"I'm going mad. I've lost the plot. What am I going to do?" Rob raked his fingers through his hair. "I should have called her bluff and said I'd go. That would stop all the shite." He stood up and looked out of the window. It started to rain. "Bugger."