"Two coins, two coins" the darkness said.
The phrase was spoken by an invisible agent, to a couple as they walked through his bedroom in the middle of the night.
The bedroom was actually a canal bridge with a very broad span. The low pitched arch was Victorian face brick, it was black with old mould, and the curve gave the sound inside a hollow echo. Albeit filthy and cold it was nevertheless someone's bedroom.
"Two coins, two coins" the darkness repeated.
The intruders, a man and a woman, shuffled awkwardly in the dark tunnel. They had gotten half way through the tunnel, just past the reach of the dim park lights.
Ahead of them, some 10 meters beyond the exit to the tunnel, was a traditional narrowboat, ahead of that was another one, a grey and green 70 foot wide-beam, then a gap, then more boats all the way to the next bridge. The vessels bumped and tugged against their moorings in the broad gutter of shimmering black water.
Its never obvious if a barge is inhabited or not. Its not apparent if anyone would respond to a scream in the night. The woman looked at the stern of the closest barge for a moment then checked behind her. Two halogen coloured cyclists crossed the previous bridge and disappeared. Her loneliness made her feel a little chilly, so she clung to the man's arm.
The sad irony about invisible people is that they are everywhere, they sit outside shops, next to cash dispensers, in front of restaurant windows, beside bus stops, and yet they only appear when you think something is wrong, that frame of mind makes you actually look at them. Invisible people can only be seen when you look at them.
As their eyes adjusted to the lack of light, a human form manifest from the squalor. It was the same thing that had spoken to them, it was a man, and he was lying on a cardboard bed under crisp sheets of newspaper linen. He raised himself on one elbow, frowned at them and sat up. The beige paper sheets slipped away as he raised his dirty hand.
"Two coins, two coins" the bag man said.
At the tail end of each sentence his jaw would droop, his throat bulge and his mouth flex open. Almost as if he was laying an egg, or clearing blocked ears, as you would do on an aeroplane. An very unfortunate facial tick.
The other man, the one hooked to the woman; unhooked her.
"This guy's a fucking nutter" he said and glanced at the woman.
"Poor thing" she replied.
Her words made his eyes roll and caused him to exhale a quiet sigh. She stepped forward and took his elbow again and tilted her head. She smiled and planted a little kiss on his cheek. The smell of her made his nostrils flare. She was ovulating and more than a little tipsy. The man smiled. Then slipped his hand into his trouser pocket and looked down as he did.
In the valley of his pocket, he fingered some coins and carefully avoided bank notes, while his eyes casually wondered the hills of her cleavage, then he confidently slid his hand into her blouse and spooned a breast free from the cradle of her black bra, bent and kissed her nipple. Her lilac eyelids closed on her hazel eyes and her lips parted with an desperate moan.
"Larry?" she said.
The woman named the man.
The first word of your vocabulary is your name. It's oldest part of you, and the genesis of the realm of language. A root from which the rest of your life will anchor and grow. Each time your word is said it reinforces its hold. Pathways in the brain get etched and re-etched with the chords of those letters that compose the song that incarcerates you in the abyss of conciousness. This simple alphabetical shape, once established, can never be un-heard. You can never be un-named, only nicknamed. It belongs to you and it owns you by equal measure. Your name will always find you. No matter where. It is a very dangerous thing to give away. This woman knew his name as he knew hers. Linda.
Larry abandoned his carnal daydream and produced some small change, which he counted quietly, selected the smallest denominations and pocketed the remainder.
"There y'go mate" he said.
Larry approached the vagrant and dropped the coins into his hand.
The beggar nodded and looked at his palm. He pinched one up, between finger and thumb and stared at it. Then stared at the other ones and tossed the coin away.
"No!" he said, and picked up the next coin. "No!" he repeated and discarded it.
"What the fuck are you doing?" asked Larry.
One after the other the tramp compared the money and tossed it all away.
"Two coins, two coins" repeated the beggar.
"What?" said Larry.
"Larrrrrry?" called Linda from behind them.
"Two" said the beggar "not a hand full of ones. No. Must be twins. Head and tail twins."
Linda joined them.
"What's wrong? Is something wrong?" she asked.
"This is absolutely ... I don't know what this is, but, you ain't getting another fucking penny from me. Can you believe this guy?" Larry asked.
At this point Larry was talking to himself. Linda had stepped closer to the filthy vagrant and knelt down to eye level. Precariously balanced on platform high heels, she lifted her purse and clipped it open, and produced a glutton free breakfast bar with dehydrated raspberry flakes on a generous milk-chocolate base.
"Here you go" she said and handed it forward.
The troll looked at the gift, then looked at her, then looked at Larry, where his gaze fixated.
"Two coins." he said.
Linda was disappointed that her kindness had been declined in favour of money. But she was a nice person, and nice people know what's best for everyone.
"It's yum. It's milk chocolate, so ..." she said.
Then it dawned on her, something she really should have considered.
"You're not vegan are you?" she asked.
The tramp didn't respond.
She left the snack on the edge of his cardboard mattress.
"Okay, well maybe keep it for later?" she smiled.
"Larry have you got a quid?" she asked.
"No, lets go" he said.
Linda glared at him, and opened her purse, and ruffled around with it's contents. She checked her telephone just in case someone somewhere had something to say. Someone had. It was Cathy, emoting on Instagram. Linda made a mental note to like her later. There was no money in Linda's purse. Well not money money. In a world that is completely cashless how would you help the desperate? Linda wondered. She thought that someone somewhere should make an app for that. Linda realised that she was defeated by technology.
"Well can you "lend" me a pound then?" she asked Larry.
Larry sighed again and once more his hand went into his trousers, and once more it came out with coins, and once more he prodded them until he found: Two. Identical. Heptagonal. Fifty pence coins. Coins are completely anonymous in a way that banknotes aren't. Notes are named by number.
"I can't believe I'm doing this. Seriously." he muttered.
Larry approached the tramp and dropped the two coins into his mustard yellow palm. Then turned back to fetch Linda.
Happy? he asked.
Linda folded her arms.
The beggar examined the coins, and shrilled.
"Yessssss. Yes. Make the name. Make the name".
Linda turned toward the open end of the tunnel. Her heel shuddered on the coarse gravel walkway.
"Are you going to be okay mister?" she asked.
"Make. The. Name" said the tramp.
"What's he mean now?" said Linda.
"Oh for god sakes! Thank you? Your welcome? No probs." said Larry.
"Make the name" said the tramp.
"Larry? What name?" asked Linda.
"It's obvious really, don't ya think?" smirked Larry.
Linda glared at him.
Larry shrugged and faced the tramp.
"Rumplestiltskin, okay. Did you get that? Yeah? Rumple-fucking-stilt-skin" he barked.
"Nooo. Make it half, make it whole. Make the name!", said the tramp.
And he held the two coins up. One facing heads, the other tails, held by thumb and curled forefinger. The other fingers fanned out like eyelashes around the two disembodied eyes of chrome, on stretched arms like some malevolent snail, swaying blindly in the dirty night desperate to find something to see.
"Larry don't be mean, he can't help it" said Linda.
"Right" said Larry, "were off, c'mon Linda"
They turned and headed for the exit. Linda clutched her bag to her chest, her heels clattering on the stone floor and nervously checking behind then as they went.
The tramp didn't lift his head, he stayed curled down in prayer, with his arms awkwardly in the air.
"Hey! Larrrrrry, larrrrry, leterious little larrrrry ... make the name larrrrrry", the darkness said.
Larry stopped dead in his tracks. His name was calling him in a bad way. He spun around with slit eyes and fists clenched.
"Larry, don't, just leave him", Linda said.
Larry nodded, and his shoulders slowly relaxed. He looked at Linda and nodded again, and his thin lips relaxed.
"It's OK. Really it's fine. I got this." he said.
He walked back and looked down on the hopeless tramp.
"Mickey. Mouse. You fucking freak!" said Larry.
As he said each word the fingered eyelashes closed over each coin.
"We hear the half, We hear the whole. Yes. Yes. A way you will go, and go you will a-way." he said.
Then the beggar sat up and tucked the coins under his eyelids and looked at Larry with two metallic cataracts.
"The deed begun is the name undone. By noun and verb it turns unheard." he sang.
Then the rotten man in his rotten lair laid another egg with his mouth, and grinned at Larry.
"Why does he do that?" asked a Linda from behind.
The metal eyes blinked, and bled and flicked the head to look at Linda.
And the mouth opened and laughter came out. At first a single hysterical voice, but it was followed by another distinctly different voice, with a higher pitch and a tendency to giggle, then another with a smokers wheeze, then another with a whooping beat, with each new voice the beggars mouth opened wider, until the lower jaw dislocated with a snap, and new voices joined the others, and the mouth stretched wider and wider still.
The laughter echoed back and forth in the parabolic dish that described the bridge. And then his head cracked open and his tongue thrashed around detached, as the throat prolapsed. His tonsil's were followed by the stomach, which stank like shit and spewed bile and acid everywhere, then the large intestine shot out and up like an untethered hose, squirting chunks of undigested food into the air like a fountain. The man unpeeled and disintegrated in his own acid, until all that remained was reduced to a muddy black swamp.
Linda and Larry where paralysed in macabre terror, a typical reaction for a mammal overloaded by fear. When the centre for fight or flight, in the hipocampus, encounters an entity unknown it collapses. Leaving the host paralysed. It is part of the ancient agreement, at some point food knows it is food and surrenders to be eaten.
And after the vagrant had prolapsed entirely the laughing voices stopped one by one. The joke had run dry.
"We better call the cops" he said.
All that remained of the homeless man was his cardboard bed with a breakfast bar one corner, and a dirty pool of oil. The dark treacle dripped in tendrils onto the pavement and spilt forward like a lake of slow honey.
It was completely quite except for the slosh of echoed water.
"Are you calling them?" he asked
Larry turned to Linda. She was still behaving like frozen food, paralysed, twitching, shivering with her bag clutched tightly to her chest.
He clicked his fingers at her.
"Hey! Snap out of it, we need to call the cops" he said. She didn't respond. "Linda! Hello Lin...da? Is anyone in there?" he shouted.
Larry used her name. And so the name did what all names do. It found her trapped in her subconscious and brought her back. Linda blinked and look down at her self, she had wet her panties. She looked up and her eyes found Larry frowning at her.
She nodded at him and to herself then let her gaze drift past him into the tramps bedroom, and onto the remains, the black lake. It had moved down, and was now inches away from Larry's new shoes. She watched it creep toward him and pool under his heel.
"Larry you're standing in it" she said.
"What?" he asked.
She pointed at his feet.
He followed her finger to his shoes.
"Ah shit!" he said
He lifted his foot. The oil stretched up in streaks like hot bubble gum. He stepped away and the whole lake pulled along like a plastic sheet, he dragged his feet on the floor, pressing down into the gravel to scrape it off, but the oil stayed stuck and continued to pool behind him until it aligned with the shape of his silhouette, the oil cloned his shadow.
"What the fuck?" he said and quickly unlaced his shoes and carefully stepped free.
Larry backed up until he was beside Linda. Apart from the shoes and the breakfast bar nothing looked out of order, nothing odd, nothing to suggest anything at all.
Linda started crying as her adrenaline subsided, and Larry wrapped his arm around her shoulder, then took off his jacket and draped it over her as they left the esplanade and climbed the stairs to the road above the bridge.
"I'll get a cab, I think maybe you should come back to my place? Yeah?" he said.
Linda renewed her sobbing without a word.
Larry took out his phone and ordered a cab, which arrived three minutes later. Like a true gentleman he opened the back door and ushered Linda in, and as he walked around the back of the car Linda leaned over and locked the passenger door, and opened the window and threw his jacket out and told the driver to go.
"Hey! hey! Stop" he shouted as the car pulled away.
"Stupid bitch!" he screamed at the tail lights.
And flicked a fuck-you finger as he walked over to his coat. When he bent to pick it up, he felt dizzy. A increase of pressure in his sinuses. Larry pinched the bridge of his nose and squinted his eyes, and stood up slowly. He blamed high blood pressure for the head rush, perhaps the wine had a part in it too. The discomfort passed quickly so he took out his phone and hailed another cab.