Short Story: Camera Obscura

This story first appeared in The Oxford Student on 6 May 2016. It was part of the Arts and Lit section’s new Ox-dyssey Short Story column, where people were asked to write stories set in Oxford. So I wrote this one – I’m not a big fan of the Radcam, in case this doesn’t make it obvious.

They were going to levitate the RadCam. And I was going to watch. Or at least, I was going to watch the attempt, and then go home to bash out five hundred words about it for the student press. Looking at my notes, I already had enough material for an opening paragraph. Weather: clear, but with the air ominously chilled. Crowd: a knot of seven people loitering in the corner of the square. Atmosphere: cautiously rebellious, a ringleader handing out pamphlets. That must be at least, what, a hundred words? I sighed. I was going to have to talk to them, wasn’t I?

I picked on the ringleader first. A small, dark-haired Scot, he introduced himself as Andrew, although in the last ten minutes alone I had heard him variously referred to as Ian, Percy, Benjamin, and the Keeper of the Hand of Omega. I asked him what motivated this peculiar stunt. “Have you seen the Bodleian?” he demanded. “Terrible place, full of lost bod cards and lost souls – a blight on this smear of concrete and humanity we call ‘Oxford’. The stink of fear, hatred, compulsion – it soaks into the concrete. The university cries out like a newborn! My associates and I are here to answer that cry.” At that moment one of his associates, a young lady with a bomber jacket and a cut-glass accent, sidled up and put a hand on Andrew’s shoulder. “Don’t mind Trevor – he can get a bit hated about these things. I’m Patricia, by the way. Did you want to ask a question?” I wanted to know what they were doing. “Oh that’s easy,” she smiled. “We intend to levitate the RadCam about five hundred metres into the air, and then give it a good shake.” Why were they doing it? “To release all the un-exorcised souls that are trapped in there back into the atmosphere, which we hope will help deal with the fundamentally evil force which sits at the very core of the city. I hope that makes everything quite clear?” It didn’t. “Excellent. So, let’s get on with it, shall we?”

The seven of them joined hands, forming a circle. They began a rhythmic chant, which it took me a minute to recognise as from Blue Swede’s ‘Hooked on a Feeling’. Suddenly, Andrew burst out: “Time present and past, contained within time future, time future within time past! If all time is eternally present, then all time is unredeemable!” He paused, and Patricia picked up: “I remember when we broke up, the first time, saying this is it, I’ve had enough. You said you, needed space, what?” The chant sped up as Patricia stopped, and suddenly the seven of them bellowed in unison: “Let the Chains of Radcliffe SHATTER!” There was an awkward pause.

It was at this point that a deafening crack sounded immediately behind me, and suddenly the square was full of running, screaming people.

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