A pea-soup fog chokes London for the first time in sixty years and nobody knows why.
The phones have stopped working, the broadband is down, and what are the voices that tear through the night? The people know only that the fog has summoned back an older London, where the dead seem as present as the living. Why is everyone scared of the filthy old man in The Grapes? Why did he follow Bernadette to her favourite Kurdish café in Hackney? And why can’t the Archduke Soupy van Brilliantine, pacing along a northbound platform of the Bakerloo Line, remember anything of his past.
Six lives intertwined; an aging rock-chick, a failing author, a charity supremo, a retired financier, a middle-class dope-head and an inept lothario – all go into the fog. Not all of them return. Only Alistair Hindmarch learns why the dead prefer the fog of London to the place they are supposed to be. And Alistair really wishes he hadn't.
People in the Light
The end. They know it is coming and all across the city the parties are a little too loud, the laughter too shrill, everything forced a pitch too high. This brilliant, bright autumn cannot go on forever, these blazing days, this summer heat, the spectacular clarity of the air. London shines, it is crisp, as hard-edged as a world experienced through a new pair of spectacles. But yesterday was Halloween, for pity’s sake – it must end soon. The people sense that it is coming and they are right.
* * *
He is young, mid-to-late twenties maybe, three days’ growth of gingery stubble, tall and stooping and as inconspicuous as it is possible to be for a tall man dressed as a duck. His costume is yellow, once a bright synthetic yellow, but now a patchwork of low organic shades, matted and wet-looking. He carries a crumpled supermarket plastic bag that swings with the weight of the thing inside, swings at the pace of his long, slow strides, and he drinks from a can of Coke as he goes. In the same hand as the bag he carries the costume’s head. It might be an unlicensed Tweety Pie or a bootlegged Donald, it might be an attempt at a generic cartoon bird but, whatever, it is not a good attempt. He finishes his Coke, head back, Adam’s apple prominent on his long throat that is mottled by the heat and by the bothering ruff of nylon feathers. He drops the can into a bin by Islington Green and continues his measured walk northward, a huge string puppet loping up the Essex Road.
After a while he turns into a strange, winding little park, narrow and punctuated by man-made rock formations. In the quiet away from the main road he can hear children’s voices and, as he reaches the gate of the park, he sees them, a dozen little kids in an old-fashioned playground, a rare playground without chipped tree bark on the ground or machines made of minimalist tubing and sustainable timber. This park has missed its make-over, it has swings and a multi-coloured, sharp-edged helter-skelter, and the kid at the top of this sees the duck man and points, yells something to another kid. Not wanting to disappoint a playground full of children, the man puts on the head and walks at the same loose, easy pace, past the swings and the slide, waving to his audience. The kids wave back and some of them follow him to the gate where mothers and fathers turn them back, stop them going any further. Duck Man walks on, plastic bag swinging, and, despite the heat, he doesn’t bother to take off the head, not even when he has turned left, out of sight of the playground and into a complex of tall red brick buildings that are handsome but have about them the unmistakable downbeat rhythm of social housing. He turns another corner and stops at one of the older buildings where he takes a small bunch of keys from his bag and opens the door to a ground floor flat....
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