The Mars Tiles

August 10, 2017 at 7:36 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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This story ran in Eidolon magazine in 1999. My style has changed much, but I’ve resisted the temptation to ‘fix’ everything. Therefore, please consider this an ‘artefact’.

While sitting on the toilet of my rented worker’s cottage last Saturday night, I became aware of something that had been staring up at me for months. My floor tiles are not rectangles of slate. They are in fact textured photographic plates of the surface of Mars, coated with a protective epoxy resin. Though I find it more exciting to have images of Mars on my floor than common slate, I can’t imagine that the arrangement is permanent. Further, I feel strongly that my new awareness has placed me in danger.

It was late and I was drunk. To prevent the toilet from spinning, I was rocking and trying to focus. My gaze eventually fell to the floor, whereupon my disinhibition allowed me to penetrate the tiles’ disguise. Heedless of time, I stared in wonder at spectacular canyons, towering volcanoes, dry ocean beds and massive craters. The detail was incredible – superior to anything that’s been on TV. The planet looked like a raw, early Earth. But that comparison falls way short of the truth. Mars is so much more… epic. It’s maddening; the words don’t exist to describe what I saw. How can they, until we’ve been there to invent them?

At first my discovery seemed accidental. Then I recalled a prelude. I was surprised on viewing the cottage for the first time. It had just been renovated and I’d been impressed by the ancient, polished bedroom floorboards and the sheer indulgence of slate through the rest of the house. I remembered thinking, ‘who lays slate in their lounge, kitchen, bathroom and toilet – especially in a rental property?’

Then there was my criticism of the renovations after moving in. They’d looked fantastic during the agent’s tour, but fell apart under scrutiny. Doors had been badly rehung; the paint had drips and bristles and many floorboards were cracked, pitted and badly filled. Shabby work; except for the tiles. They had been immaculately laid. The other renovations seemed desperately ham-handed in comparison, as if seeking to draw attention from the perfect floor.

Finally, there was the anvil. I’d picked it up at a garage sale, since it looked like the one in ‘The Road Runner Show’. While hefting it though the house, I tripped. Fifty kilos of hardened steel plummeted pointy-end first into the lounge room floor. I should say onto the lounge room floor, because the anvil not only failed to shatter the tiles, it didn’t even mark their clear coating. It actually bounced twice before coming to rest.

That my tiles are textured photographic plates of Mars makes sense of the foregoing phenomena. They have been hidden in my home. By the Americans. In a place the rest of the world will never think to look. Until it’s safe to retrieve them.

After my discovery, I began to feel frightened.

The tiles had been laid immediately prior to my tenancy. Was I their unwitting guardian? I thought back to my tour, how the agent had drawn me away from the meandering competition to say she liked me and would put three ticks on my form. Though unemployed, I beat fifteen other applicants. Had she selected me because I was too stupid to notice the plates? Or was I someone who on recognising them, would realise the importance of keeping the secret? When I summoned the courage to ring her this week, I was told she’d been transferred. They wouldn’t say where. Since then I’ve received notice of an inspection that wasn’t due for five months. They’re coming tomorrow.

Yesterday I found one of my rubbish bins smashed. The old security door I’d propped against my rear lane entrance had fallen. Yet there’s been no wind. I suspected a burglar, but nothing was missing.

It’s now Friday night – almost a week since my discovery. I’ve just spent an hour taking Polaroids of the tiles. None has come out properly, though all the lights are on. Only those taken near the skirting boards bear any resemblance to their subject. The walls are crystal clear, but there’s only black where the tiles should be. I tried to chip a piece off one of them after I ran out of film, and nearly brained myself with my mechanic’s hammer. It bounced back with more force than I’d put into the blow. My telephone has rung three times. Each time I’ve picked it up, there’s been silence. I put my answering machine on and there hasn’t been a call since. ‘Skat’, my cat, refuses to come inside.

I’m writing this because I feel too foolish to tell anybody. Reading it over I feel better, since it all sounds like crap. Dave, my best friend (my only friend) is coming over. We’ll get pissed and I’ll read him this and he’ll laugh himself silly. The night is very quiet. A van has pulled up; I can see it through the gap in my curtains. White Mitsubishi: nothing threatening about that.

Ah, here’s Dave, running up my stairs. I’ve got to go.

*********

They say I look good for 35.

I’m 31.

Still, I know I’ve been here a while. I have injection scars on both arms. I’m fatter too.

Dave came to see me today. He’s still my best mate. I couldn’t help myself – I had to ask again what happened, even though it meant loss of privileges. They had him out of the booth before I’d even finished my sentence. Poor Dave. He only ever gave away that one morsel when he first saw me here. He was rattled and I was together enough to exploit that. I’ve never hurt a living creature in my life. If there’s only one thing I know for sure, I never touched Skat. I saw the look in Dave’s eyes though. He believes them, whatever they told him. The Americans. So why does he keep visiting?

Maybe he feels guilty about living in my old house. It’s all open plan now, apparently. The owner gutted it after the fire. The floor’s been carpeted. Whacko; it’ll be warmer in winter.

I get ‘New Scientist’ in here with the staples removed. The other month they ran a Mars special. I leafed through it till Mills snatched it from me to make hats. I didn’t bother chasing him. I’d seen all the pictures before.

I look forward to bath time. They let us lie as long as we want. Until the water gets cold if we like. I enjoy floating and staring at the ceiling. Just the other week, I noticed patterns in the flaking paint above me. I thought I saw a huge blueprint, covering the whole room. I have a theory, but the ceiling’s too high for me to test it. I’m going to have to wait until one of the paint flakes falls. This will be difficult, since I only have a bath every third day. So I’ve decided to map every flake. I’m going to start soon. That way, I’ll see if any are missing each time I come here. If I wait long enough and no paint flakes fall, I’ll know they’re not really paint flakes. Then I’ll find a way, somehow, to get up to that ceiling and find out what’s really going on in this joint.

Pic by NASA.

Brought to you by Imagine Day the book.

 

 

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