When you work in a charity shop, you quickly become friendly with screws, especially if it’s a children charity shop. A number of fake walkie talkies, little RC cars and whatever other battery-operated bullshit I had to take apart with the help of my grubby fingers and a cheap screwdriver, I don’t wish to try and count that. Yet, every charity shop also has the same problem; getting a whole load of random rubbish donated by someone with a plastered smile on their face. It was the kind of stuff that was meant for the skips and tips, things that bin men should pick up, not volunteers who weren’t being paid any measly amount to wipe off dried feces from a baby’s high chair. I could count a number of high chairs I wiped dried fluids off of, it was five. One wasn’t so bad but the other four might as well have been made of a mixture of saliva and baby food poo because you couldn’t see any of the material underneath it.
Yet, this story is not about how I wiped shit off of high chairs, that is a horror story for another time. This is the story of a rattling inside a toy walkie talkie.
I have to admit, if someone was battery operated, I would usually do more than I needed to do. By that I meant, I would take apart the toy itself, seeing how it worked inside. The only procedure I really had to do was pop open the battery compartment, take out any batteries and test the toy to see if it worked. If it blinked, flickered or made a noise, I could price it and put it on the shelf. If it didn’t, I would throw it in the bin. Yet, I found an odd fascination in actually taking the things apart and seeing how they worked from the inside. I liked that in most things, knowing how they worked. Name something and I would probably love to hear or see how it worked. Digestive systems, walkie talkies, cars, bombs, rifles; anything at all, I loved learning how they worked and how they were built. I am rather surprised I was never talked to by a police officer or a government official. For the amount of time I spent researching improvised weaponry, reading through gunsmithing guides and learning how to make bombs for a cheap thrill of education, I would have thought I would have been put on some watchlist. Luckily, I don’t think I am.
So, as I was saying, I took apart toys and looked at their circuits, seeing how they functioned. It wasn’t over scientific, it was more Victorian. The Victorian way of cutting something open just to find out how it works was always in my mind. I knew that, from a little motherboard, if a wire connected to a speaker, the toy should probably play music or speak a line. I didn’t know how the audio systems worked or how any of it really worked. Someone could have told me that the audio was put onto the little boards by ways of witches, I would probably have to believe you. I just enjoyed seeing the wires and seeing how the toys worked.
So, in this case, an older man donated a bag of toys. There was nothing that bad about him. He did, however, have an old look about him. He was a hunched over old man, his appearance having more in common with a goblin than that of a person. His wrinkles looked like that of a caricature of an old man and his hair was a wispy white mound like he was a psychic living in a caravan. Yet, I had seen worse. I gladly accepted the bag, giving him an exaggerated smile and a thank you. Grabbing the carrier bag, I placed it behind the desk and served a few customers.
When the shop got quiet, everyone having either left with what they came for or disappeared from sight, I brought the back onto the desk and poured it onto the table. It was full of junk mostly. Not bad junk, just a load of junk that most people wouldn’t want to have their children play with. Old toys that looked so old that they probably had lead paint on, things that looked like they were more capable of housing weapons than happy times with the children. Yet, in the mixture of old toys, there were a few oddities. One of them being a bloody knife and other a Fireman Sam toy walkie talkie.
The knife was a switchblade. The kind that leather jacket wearing thugs would hold up to someone and, with a click of the button, flick out the blade, telling them to shut up. It was one of those, even in its iconic black colors. Although the thoughts of reporting it to the manager and, therefore, the police came to mind, it isn’t always in the mind of volunteers to be the most law abiding. Quite frankly, most volunteers will pick a few things out and pocket it for themselves. I was more moral; only taking things that were destined for the bin. It was how I got my brother his birthday present of a little confederate flag by quickly nabbing it before it landed in the bin. So, like an idiot, I pocketed the switchblade in the back of my jeans. I have to admit, though when I felt the button pressing against me, I had to flip the blade around in my pocket. I was stupid but I was also fearful; I didn’t want the image of my own ass sending me to a hospital by stabbing me in the leg plaguing my mind all day, so I had to flip it.
Then came the walkie talkie. It was a strange piece of kit, especially due to its surroundings. It was surrounded by toys that looked like they would belong to a Victorian child, yet amongst them was this. For those who don’t know, Google describes the show like this; 'follows the adventures of the title hero and his colleagues as they protect the citizens of the Welsh town of Pontypandy.' I did watch it when I was young and I watched it on occasion when I had to babysit one of my younger cousins, so I was aware of the smiling face of that 3D fireman. Yet, it twinged me as odd as it was buried among the other things. I picked it up and, as I pressed one of the colorful buttons, it sounded off proudly about rescuing a cat from a tree, yet I felt weight moving inside. Carefully, I shook it and there was a shift inside, a weight that I couldn’t explain. You could easily feel it as it moved from side to side.
Keeping a close eye on the door to the back store room, I got one of the screwdrivers from under the desk and flipped the walkie talkie over. The first thing I noticed was that the screws were reversed, as in leftie wasn’t loose and righty wasn’t tight, it was flipped in reverse. The other thing was that the screws were cheap. By cheap, I mean that I managed to scrape and warp the screws, simply by turning them with the screwdriver. Eventually, I peeled off the deformed screws and got to what I really needed.
The toy was hard to pry open, despite the lack of screws. I checked if I had forgotten some hidden secret screw but I hadn’t. Eventually, I simply aimed at the table and, with careful precision, whacked the walkie talkie against it, hoping that I had hit the split in the middle. Luckily, it worked and one-half of the walkie talkie shifted upwards. Digging in my nails, I ripped the front of the walkie talkie off. As I did, there was a long pull of yellowing glue. It was super glue by the look of it, glue sticks don’t harden like that. Yet, sitting in the center of all of it, there was a USB stick. Although many would think that it was a massive USB, like a stick, it wasn’t. It was barely the size of my thumb. Rattling the walkie talkie, the USB fell onto the desk and, peeling off the protective cover, I could see that it wasn’t damaged by any sort of glue.
My brain thudded, telling me that I would have to report this to the police. Despite the switchblade incident earlier, a USB hidden within a children’s toy felt like it was somehow worse. Usually, people hide things in attics, locked safes or something else, yet this guy had hidden whatever it was a children’s toy. A children’s toy that would either be sold and disappear into the mass of the general public or be thrown around from charity shop to charity shop until someone either throws it away or it disappears into the general public of god knows where. Thoughts swam in my head of drug operations, weapons deals, terrorist plans and pedophilic writings; all horrible ideas swam behind my eyes, poking at the nerves within my head.
Soon, my morals turned to static. As my mind slowly sank into blissful oblivion, my thoughts disappearing into quiet mental ramblings, I listened to the static. As my body slowly became weightless, I listened to the static. My body was slowly turning numb to it all, like a wave of pins and needles were landing on my skin, yet in a soft and soothing way. Yet my morals resurfaced. As the deep thoughts crushed into me like a weight made of iron, I tried to drive away the static.
The moralistic static soon cut off, silencing for a while when the USB passed into my pocket.
The rest of the day was inevitable. I spent it, recalling how I brought an 8mm camera from the shop. There was nothing wrong with the camera, it worked perfectly, as far as I could tell. I mean, all I know is that when I wound it up and pushed the switch on the front, it made a whirring sound and a little pole thing span inside when I popped it open and pressed down on the switch.
The whirring was like a film projector - it sounded wonderful. It even had a little sight for aiming the lens. It looked like something from an old sci-fi film; there were three separate rectangles, all within each other like a Russian nesting doll. The largest was green, the medium one was red, and then the last, the smallest, was yellow. Aiming it inside the charity shop, I saw the sight worked perfectly.
The charity shop wasn’t allowed to sell it to the public, so I, as a worker, bought it for two pounds and went on my way. That was a pretty big bonus of working in a charity shop, you get to know all the stuff in the back, items that the shop legally can’t sell. Truly amazing the kind of stuff you could buy.
I was snapped out of the dream by the manager tapping me on the shoulder. She was a polite woman. She looked like one of those fifties wives you saw in the old adverts for cocaine, yet she was slightly larger than one of those girls. Her hair was ginger and she had freckles all over her face. To be honest, if you plopped her in Ireland, they would hardly recognize the difference to the scenery. I have to admit, although I didn’t join the job for it, I did end up having a thing for her. Sadly enough, nothing ever happened to it because real life isn’t some romance novel and, even if it was, I was not the man who wielded the fancy cars and the abs that could grate cheese.
She told me that I should have left five minutes ago. Giving a stupid ‘Oh’, I left and wandered home with my hands in my jean pockets.
When I got home, there was no one there. A note taped to the wall told me that they had all gone out, going to some antique shop in the middle of nowhere. My brother wasn’t in either, I couldn’t hear him shouting some inane nonsense at his console so I knew that. Going upstairs, I turned onto the landing and there were the two doors; one to my room and one to my brother’s. I could see in his room and his laptop was on, chugging away as it loaded something. Carefully, I pulled the USB out of my pocket and went into his room.
Sitting on his bed, I brought the laptop onto my lap and carefully plugged the USB in. It fired up, flashing a few layers of green until it was completed. It finished and I scanned it for viruses. Nothing, nothing came of it.
From everything I had heard about hackers and their little gifts, I thought I would see a few hundred windows pop up, extracting whatever credit cards or pieces of information my brother had left stupidly on his computer. Yet, nothing happened. The laptop sat there, waiting for me to do something.
I clicked the little button that said it would safely extract the USB and slowly pulled the stick from the slot. Placing the laptop on the bed, I wandered into my room and held down the button on my PC. The large brick of a computer churned to life, spewing gusts of the wind from its fans. The monitor flared up with a rotating logo. A small number popped up, quickly turning from zero to a hundred without much of a moment’s notice.
As the screen planted itself into my desktop, it loaded up my wallpaper; a little image of a Union Jack. It was nothing fancy. It was simply a picture that meant well to me. Carefully, I sat in my desk chair and slotted the USB in. The stick fired up. It went through its prayers before letting me in.
I double-clicked it and the folder opened up. There was a text file and an executable. The text file was simply titled ‘1711’ and the executable was called ‘The Kite’. The twinges of guilt came to mind again, every thought of calling the police regurgitated behind my eyes like mental vomit. I flicked my cursor over towards the text file, I popped it open.
The text file I actually made a copy of, let me just post it here;
'S kw pkcmsxkdon li kvv yp drsc. Ofobi csxqvo zsomo yp drsc, S wecd vokbx. Drsc sc xyd cywodrsxq drkd S mkx okcsvi cdyz. Sd rkc cgkvvygon ez wi vspo csxmo 1987. Drkd sc k vyxq dswo dy rkfo loox myxcdkxdvi ylcoccon. S rkfo vycd pkwsvi, pbsoxnc, gybu kxn cmryyv yfob rsc ylcoccsyx. Iod? Sd gkc cyworyg kvv gybdr sd. S poov kc sp Qyn gsvv xyg kvvyg wo sxdy rokfox kc sp drkd gkc dro ybsqsxkv zkdr pyb wi vspo. Kc S psxscr drsc vkcd zsomo, S poov kc sp Tocec gsvv xyg qbood wo kd dro zokbvi qkdoc gsdr k mvyen-grsdo cwsvo cdbodmron kmbycc rsc pkmo.'
I never discovered what this meant but even when I had opened it the first time, I knew that it wasn’t coding. I had seen coding before, popping open files of programs using notepad. Coding looked random, using random symbols, question marks and whatever else the keyboard allowed. It all mashed together into a strange language that only the computer could understand. Yet, this wasn’t coding, I could tell. This was I kind of secret language, the commas and full-stops all seemed to form complete sentences of gibberish and nonsense. For whole minutes, I stared at it, yet couldn’t work out a single piece of it. The only thing I could really have thought was that 'S' meant 'I' as it was the only letter constantly capitalized. From what, though, I still had no idea what the paragraph meant. Ideas poured into my head of what it could all mean. It could be a cry for help, a man having gone insane, thinking that his last hope was some mysterious person at a charity shop. However, the ideas that it was a confession to murder and death were not totally out of my mind. The fluid of these dark thoughts mixed together like blood mixing into seawater.
As my thoughts deepened, becoming unneeded static to my logic, I closed the text document, letting it sit on my taskbar like a fat slug. My thoughts turned into subconscious pleas to reopen it. If I reopened it, I could find out what it meant. What it all meant. I could discover if this man needed help.
My thoughts raced back to ideas of the Zodiac killer. A man who had used symbols in his own murders. The first of his letters was decoded by a maths teacher and his wife. All by simply looking for clues, words that had double letters, such as words as ‘kill’. They decoded the entirety of the letter and that lead the police on their goose chase after the killer and trying to decode his letters at every point imaginable.
I thought about that, thinking to myself that I could have done the same. If I had the commitment, I could have said down at my breakfast table and, over a glass of orange juice and toast, decoded the letter. I could have helped the police on their little chase.
As I thought about it, my thoughts unwound against me, turning hostile. They told me that my job would have been easier than theirs, the cipher was easier. It was a simple letter replacement. I could work it out with a google search, most likely. These thoughts swam behind my eyes, letting me sit frozen in my chair. My mind resurfaced the thoughts of what the text could mean. All the possibilities and even some impossibilities of what it could mean.
I wanted to find comfort. Comfort knowing what that text meant. People find comfort in the things they understand. A rockstar is comfortable with sex, drugs and rock and roll while a Christian preacher would hide in fear, shadowing himself away from what he believes is wrong with a healthy dose of religious thought. Comfort is something humans need to survive, I theorize. It goes food, water, shelter, and comfort. Comfort is to make sure you don’t go insane and start seeing things.
To help ease myself off of my anxiety, I helped myself to some creepy videos on the internet. The kind that is about the top lists of creepy people that once lived in Japan and other kinds of things like that. You have to wonder why some people are morbid. I mean, for me, I like feeling unsettled, it’s an odd form of anxiety that is actually stimulating to me, it doesn’t make me feel bad, it makes me feel good. I get a charge out of it.
I think it’s also because I like the idea of being honest and real. I feel like most of the happy things that are casually told to us or shown to us through whatever screen we prefer to view them through is not actually real or, at the very least, not honest. I believe morbid curiosity stems from what everyone wants out of a human; honesty. I find a much greater honesty in the darker side of a life as it is more real, more uncut and less polished.
I often find myself recording serial killer documentaries and googling stories of plane crashes, and people, who I’ve accidentally let it slip to, looks at me like I am some evil creature that loves the stuff, that I’d kill them on the spot if I knew they wouldn’t scream. Then again, I shouldn’t be going around telling people about how awesome plane crashes are but sometimes I let slip a few lines and then I get myself down into the deep questioning of my mental health.
Yet, as the videos tapered off, I got onto my second favorite thing; suicide notes. My family barged into the house as I read some of the firsts.
I read one that oddly hit home with me. It was a single man, he was forty-four. It read;
'Dear anyone who reads this,
It may not seem like it with my head blown off of my head but I am happier than I have ever been. I have done everything that I could and now I am bored. I am unhappy with what I have now, so, I am going over to see what I can on the other side. God bless you all, John Richardson.'
I snorted out a laugh through my nose, thinking of my family rampaging around stairs. An intrusive thought that told me to go downstairs and show them the note. Another told me to do that and go 'Guess what?!' and blow my brains out with a pistol. I don’t own a pistol. Another more rational thought told me to go back to reading until I got bored. My brain told me of all the times I thought I was bored of life, that I had done everything I could be bothered to do.
As my thoughts died down, I looked back over at the file explorer, sitting on my taskbar. I brought it up and saw 'The Kite' sitting there. Licking my lips, I clicked on it.
A window flashed up. From the darkness, it soon slipped to a singular screen. A pixelated fire-axe atop a firefighter yellow background and, next to it, a singular button with the word ‘play’ in it. Despite those features, there was nothing else in the window. It was just that. A fire-axe and a play button.
Despite myself, I clicked the play button. A small jingle played, like a theme song running through a chiptune machine. The screen faded to black and a cross-section of a fire station popped into view. It looked like it was designed, from the ground up, to look like something from the SNES. It was like Castlevania, yet it replaced its murky browns and greens for bright reds and yellows. There was a set of spiraling stairs up to a sleeping area and, connected to that room, there was a small kitchen. A pole was positioned in the sleeping room and it was down into the large garage, that housed a single fire engine.
Despite the show, it must be based on, the fire engine was wonderful in detail. Each cabinet, hinge, and shine was beautifully rendered, giving it a crisp look. There were even the posters that they posted on the side of fire engines, warning people to check their fire detectors.
After a moment, the camera shook and, suddenly, a man appeared in the sleeping area. It was hard to tell who he was but it was easy to tell he was a firefighter. He wore the yellow helmet, the oxygen tank and everything else, despite being inside. The screen flashed white for a split second and the screen returned.
Experimentally, I pressed down on the ‘D’ key and the man sprinted right, towards the kitchen. I gave a smile and continued on. I ran over to the pole and a yellow arrow flashed above it. Pressing ‘S’, the firefighter slid down the pole, landing with a cartoonish thud on the floor. As he got himself off of the pole, standing next to the doors of the fire engine, a woman ran into the fire station.
A text box appeared, reading;
'Miss Taswell: Oh goodness, fireman Sam! There is a fire at the old French painter’s house! You have to help him before his paintings burn!'
My mind recalled memories of watching the show but I never recalled an episode like that, most of them were about public relations or rescuing cats from trees. I don’t even think there was a French character in the show at all.
Another text box popped up.
'Sam: No worries, Miss Taswell! I’m on it!'
As the characters stood there awkwardly, an arrow appeared by the fire engine. I pressed ‘W’ and Sam lurched forwards, opening the door and getting inside. It was a strange animation, almost like the engine pulled him in, instead of the other way round.
Beyond my control, the fire engine started up and rolled out of the station. The screen flickered to a loading screen, showing the fire engine spreading towards somewhere. The background a blur, like the engine had broke through hyperspace. Eventually, it faded to black.
The scene came back and the engine had stopped outside of a burning building. Inside the window was a man throwing his arms around as the flames licked up the scene behind him. I moved my character around until, eventually, another arrow popped up. I pushed ‘W’ and the man jumped down from the window, slamming into my character. He staggered back, holding onto the man as if he was a drunk before setting him on the floor.
'Mister Forgeron: Oh thank you, Sam! Yet my paintings are still inside! Can you save them?'
Instead of being a normal person and telling Mister Forgeron to go to hell, Sam responded by not talking and, without my control, running into the open door.
Inside, everything was burning, and around on pedestals were completed yet hidden paintings. They were hidden behind pixels. Running up to one, the game told me to press ‘E’. I did and a detailed screen was brought up. Grubby gloves gripped around a painting. The canvas depicted a woman, standing outside a cinema. The woman was naked except for a belt running around her waist, holding rifle magazines. On her shoulder, aiming towards the sky, an M16, straight out of a Vietnam film.
A text box below it appeared.
'Sam: Jesus, this woman is French.’
Although I hadn’t noticed, the woman had the Amazon jungle just under her waist. An option below it appeared, ‘N’ for ‘throw it outside’ or ‘Y’ for ‘let it burn’. Thinking back to my achievement scrounging days, I pressed ‘N’, chucking it outside.
The scene returned to the burning building and I ran to another painting. Pressing ‘E’, I picked it up in my hands. It was a detailed painting on the crucifixion of Christ, yet upon his arm, there was an armband of the yellow star. My thoughts of history classes gone by resurfaced. ‘N’ for ‘throw it outside’ or ‘Y’ for ‘let it burn’. I threw it outside.
Again, I ran to another painting and picked it up. A scene from America, I looked like Washington DC. It was almost humourous. It was the large statue of Abraham Lincoln, leaning from his chair and, with an outstretched hand, shaking hands with Martin Luther King. The same option appeared. ‘Y’ for ‘let it burn’ and ‘N’ for ‘throw it outside’. Again, it was given back to the painter.
I ransacked around the room, finding paintings of all different things. Two titan hands, made of all the flags of the world, shaking them; ‘Y’ for ‘let it burn’, ‘N’ for ‘throw it outside’. A dinner scene where everyone was eating vegetables and, sitting like a dog by them, was a cow; ‘Y’ for ‘let it burn’, ‘N’ for ‘throw it outside’. A picture of a wedding, a white woman and a black woman smiling together; ‘Y’ for ‘let it burn’, ‘N’ for ‘throw it outside’.
Eventually, I came upon the last painting, hidden behind a tarp. It was hard to find as it was obscured, hiding in the background. I peeled off the tarp and picked up the painting. It was a large painting, depicting a Nazi rally. It was like being lifted up to see the march of a thousand men and, at the front of that march, was Hitler himself, shouting. Hitler seemed more muscular, tall and handsome than I remembered him from pictures I had seen. Again, I was given the option; ‘N’ for ‘let it burn’. ‘Y’ for ‘throw it outside’.
I had almost hit ‘N’ before I released the mind games of it, hitting ‘Y’ instead. I smiled as I had finished the task. The scene returned and the entire house had been engulfed in flames.
Quickly, I left the house and was greeted by the scene outside. Other firefighters had joined, using the fire engine to battle the flames with hoses and such. Yet the French painter was gone and speckles of blood on the ground. Quickly, I followed it, it wasn’t a massive scene. It led to an alley way and an arrow appeared. Pressing down on the ‘W’ key, I was let into the alleyway.
The French painter was against the wall, held up by a bald thug. The thug hit the painter in the nose, the blood shooting down onto his shirt. Another appeared from the shadows and pulled a pistol from his jacket, blowing his brains out onto the wall. They turned towards me and started to run at me.
Quickly, I backed out of the alley way and threw my character towards the fire engine. The only thing that made an arrow appear was the burning house. As the thugs appeared from the alley way, I took my chance and ducked into the burning house.
The scene changed and I made Sam run to the back of the room. Quickly, he slammed against the wall and an arrow appeared. Curious, I hit the key and the character threw upon a door, disappearing into it.
It was a cellar and, in the middle of it, was a hatch. I ran over to the hatch and hit the key to let me inside.
He grabbed it with one hand and lifted up. Quickly, he reached with his other hand down and lifted to make sure he wasn’t thrown to the floor. As he lifted it, the hinges groaning with a heavy sound.
The metal slid out smoothly and eventually, it smacked itself onto the floor. It released an unholy bang that filled the clear with its echo. He grabbed the ladder that was connected to the revealed tunnel and climbed down it.
I wondered where the hell I was going but I didn’t want my character to have a run in with armed thugs, so I let him disappear down the ladder. Eventually, he reached the bottom and found a short hall and a door. A large metal door with a handle. He walked over to it and, in the same motion, slowly grabbed the door handle. He threw it open.
There was nothing, just a beeping server in a polished metal room. A laptop-looking thing stood out from the wall. Walking in, he seemed to stare at it uncomfortably. The door slammed behind him.
He walked forwards and tapped on the keyboard. The scene changed and I was greeted by a detailed look at the laptop as the character simply broke through passwords and accounts.
A pixelated video flashed up on the screen. Like I was looking through the eyes of a soldier. He rested his arm on top of a tank, a large machine gun pointed up at the sky as his arm rested on it. There was a fire station had a gaping hole in its center, smoke billowing out like a chimney. People hung off of steel that poked out at different angles, some people whole. Some in pieces. A man hung down, his upper body was torn apart, strips of flesh hanging from exposed muscle and fat. He dangled off the edge of the building with his intestines loosely fallen from his gut and decorating his bloodied corpse like Christmas tree tinsel. A woman stood at the side of the hole and was crying as she stared at the man.
Another video flashed up. I was in the eyes of another soldier and I could see three soldiers opening fire with rifles. It was only a line of women and children, it looked like they were waiting for the post office. They were shredded by bullets and slumping against the wall from the force. They were bleeding and creating pools. Their wiry guts were spread around the wall, like a firecracker that blew up in mince meat. The smile on the soldiers’ faces was stained with droplets of blood.
Behind my character, I heard the click of a pistol. The laptop was covered in blood.
Text appeared. ‘Game Over’.
I shrugged and got up, going to the toilet. When I came back, the game had crashed into a bizarre scene of glitches and pixels, broken beyond repair.
Just wondering if anyone knows where to find this game, I want to give it to my friend for his birthday.