Whatever Next

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After a fortnight's worth of debate, consideration and feedback, here is the first entry in the modestly anticipated series called... well I never actually came up with a catchy name for it. Anyway, if you need to see the rules or any explanation, see May I Conduct an Experiment?. The series will be ten episodes long, so bear that in mind with plot development and such. The entries referenced in this episode come up as linked entries wherever your skin usually puts them, and the Post Team will, as it were, post the next five entries to be used to continue this story at the bottom of this entry. The first person to follow up by adding their name will take on responsibility for the next episode.

Please keep up the challenge of...

Whatever Next...

Episode One

Dave found a seat, leaned against the window and poured himself some tea from a flask. He took a sip and grimaced as he did so. He pulled a bar of chocolate from his pocket and hastily took a bite. He took another sip and another bite and proceeded to follow the process for another several sips and bites until he had finished the cup, and then rewarded himself for his perseverance by consuming the remainder of the chocolate. It was, he reflected miserably, probably the only reward the whole unpleasant process was going to afford him, as he had been drinking dandelion tea now for about two months, since someone told him it would be good for his eczema, and it had yielded no results at all. He would probably have given up the entire wretched business of trying to ease the impact of the condition and simply opted for the more dignified and less conspicuous alternative of simply wearing a bag over his head had circumstances then been different.

But, as it was, circumstances in general seemed to be spiralling well beyond the point at which he felt that he had any sort of grasp on them at all. He stared out of the window again and wondered, not for the first time that day, what the hell he was doing in Shropshire.

The very idea was no more than a week old, and Dave had pretty much ignored it at its genesis. He'd received a text message 'See you on Friday, Buckeye'. Dave ignored it on the basis that it was doubtless just some nonsense that had been sent to the wrong number and he didn't feel moved to waste his text message allowance correcting the error, which was the sort of public spirited action which never seemed to work anyway.

Dave was finally forced to act when he was plagued with a series of text messages from Buckeye, issuing and re-issuing the invitation to meet him on Friday. Dave eventually felt moved to send a message, politely advising that he was not the intended recipient and that whoever Buckeye was, he, Dave, did not know him.

He returned to his text books and the tedious business of revising for his end of term exam. It was at moments like this, which is to say, moments when he was awake, that he wondered what had prompted him to take political science as his degree option. Over the last year and a half he had been increasingly of the view that if he was going to be bored to the point of intellectual malnutrition then he might at least be occupying his time with something potentially cool-sounding like astrophysics or molecular biology.

Dave had often wondered what it was that rocket scientists used as their subject of choice when trying to modestly dismiss the skill involved in their work. He doubted very much that they would be caught saying 'I mean it's not political science or anything'. His phone pinged again. He looked at it wearily. The number was becoming boringly familiar. The screen display said:

You don't know me Dave. I know you. Meet me outside the church on Friday. Buckeye

Dave couldn't be bothered to tangle with the complexities of an idiot who kept insisting he knew him. Instead, he left his phone at his desk, picked up his keys, threw on his coat and headed out onto the campus. Dave had much more important things to do.

Once at the computer lab, Dave quickly logged himself on to a computer in a corner and from there set a course for the information superhighway, if that was still what people called it. Once online he made his way to a website that sold CDs and entered the name Squarepusher into the site's search facility. The result was not good news. Five albums. He had been hoping for one. That would have made the business of choosing the right album considerably easier. Instead he had to make the correct selection from five alternatives with no clear indication as to which was the superior choice.

Was there a seminal album? One that you just had to have, one that would appear in some music magazine's list of the '100 albums you must own' in order to avoid being branded a cultural Neanderthal and having to face down the inevitable social stigma of not possessing at least 97 of the century of quintessential cultural items? If Dave had been buying the album for himself he would not have been worrying about such concerns, given that his total album collection of seven CDs was unlikely under any qualification to be regarded as sufficiently cool.

As it was, he was buying the CD as a birthday present, the first big birthday present in fact, for his girlfriend Lisa. Lisa was, of course, the inspiration for the, as yet, painful and pointless dandelion experiment.

They had been together for some three months now, and Dave felt very keenly that he should buy her a really good present. Not simply something on which he had spent a good deal of money (this decision having been arrived at by a combination of emotional intelligence and distinctly limited fiscal authority) but one which indicated to Lisa the extent to which Dave knew her as a person.

The degree to which he had followed carefully her likes and dislikes, and had developed a keen understanding of exactly what would be the ideal present for her. He had to get not just any old album, therefore, but precisely the right one.

But where the hell were you supposed to find the right album? Even the internet with its more or less limitless droves of information, much of it pictorial, did not seem to offer that kind of fairly necessary and obvious insight. And he was damn sure he wasn't going back to Wikipedia. Not after last time.

Dave was just reaching the point of picking an album at random and hoping that pot luck would guide him to the correct answer, when a bink-bink noise alerted him to the presence of a new e-mail in his inbox. Taking advantage of the opportunity to break off from what was becoming a depressingly fruitless exercise, Dave flicked over to his inbox. Inside was an e-mail from one of his professors. That was pretty unusual in itself.

The man was an expert in some obscure and tedious electoral mechanism used largely, as far as Dave had been able to figure out, in national elections for European parliamentary systems. The professor was not believed to possess a mobile phone and there were doubts about whether he had yet mastered the more traditional landline system. Dave reflected that this may be the first documented evidence of the professor having had a close encounter with the 21st century and considered forwarding it to everyone in his address book as a source of interest and curiosity. Then he read it... It said:

Did you get Buckeye's text message Dave?

A series of factors had, in the end, combined to send him to Newport, where one or another of Buckeye's many text messages had directed him to go.

One was, of course, curiosity.

Another was the exciting prospect of getting, even in an accidental Cary Grant sort of way, caught up in something exciting.

The third was the fact that Lisa had gone home for the weekend and left Dave with little or nothing to do.

So, he went to Newport. At this very moment he had a wad of maps on his lap as he tried, for one last time, to tally the location of the church with some bus stop that he might be able to get off at. In the end, with time to spare, he got off in the town centre and wandered around asking until he found the place, where he stood trying not to look like an idiot until the appointed time.

Just as he was beginning to think that this was all a ridiculously elaborate hoax, he heard a voice behind him say his name. He turned around.

The man, who spoke with a sort of American accent that Dave could only identify as not being Brooklyn, stood looking infuriating unlike someone who was at the centre of any sort of intrigue. He handed Dave a bag. Curious, Dave opened it up and peered inside.

The bag contained a single CD case, with the words 'Squarepusher: Scratch Yer Head' on it.

'It's his debut album', Buckeye explained shortly. 'Have I got your attention now?'

The next episode will be based on the following five entries, selected by the Post Team with the Infinite Improbability Drive:

If you want to write the next instalment, sign up below.

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