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Five-year-old Penelope Schofield went missing on the 26th May and, after the subsequent, heavily publicised nation-wide appeal on the 28th, was found in three hundred locations by three hundred and twenty seven separate people over the course of the next two days. It was thought to be a mass hoax perpetrated by, as the press seemed to delight in pronouncing, ‘internet-terrorists’ but as the police proceeded to investigate it became clear that most of the sightings reported by the public had been genuine.
Some of the sightings happened simultaneously with those in other locations ruling out any sort of sudden movement on behalf of the supposed kidnappers. Further investigation was required.
The first Penelope Schofield was rescued in Stockport, a town in the Greater Manchester area. She was found in the small suburb of Hazel Grove as the authorities were looking into one of the first calls the appeal phone line had received. Penelope was healthy and reunited with her parents. The early stories, the ones that never made it into the papers, told of how the girl hadn’t suffered and had told journalists about the ‘fun time she’d had with the brightly coloured toys’.
The second Penelope Schofield was recovered three hours later in Deeping St. James, a small town near Peterborough. The third was found in Milton Keynes thirty minutes afterwards. The fourth was discovered in Belfast an hour later. From the three hundred and twenty seven original sightings, just under two hundred and fifty resulted in the successful rescue of Penelope Schofield.
The papers went wild with the story. Thanks to the nature of the event, each one claimed to have an exclusive interview with Penelope by choosing one who hadn’t spoken to any of the other publications. Despite talking to different girls, each account was the same. According to the girl she had been playing alone outside in the garden when a man in a long coat and black trousers had picked her up and put her into the back of a van. In the van were a series of machines with flashing lights which the girl was told she could play with. Penelope described the journey taking ‘as long as an episode of Night Garden’ and that, when the van stopped, the doors were opened and she was carried into a building. This is where the accounts differ. Though we can assume each journey took the same length of time (each Penelope could give an approximation in relation to the length of her favourite television programme) the descriptions of the building is different each time. For example, one of the girls tells of a hotel, another of a house and a third says she stayed in a flat. None of them were harmed in any way whatsoever.
The parents, Timothy and Helen Schofield, who had previously been seen often in the press declined to give any interviews or comments to the press. Afterwards it was revealed that they had interviewed every child in the hope of finding ‘the original’ but gave up after the first twenty versions of Penelope greeted them with almost the exact same, ecstatic shout of ‘mummy! Daddy!’ They eventually chose one at random and left the country to avoid the inevitable media attention.
A few of the girls went to live with any relatives who were willing to take care of them but most were put up for adoption. Thanks to the high-profile nature of the story there was little delay in finding foster parents. None of the girls showed any signs of physical distress though many of them found it difficult to meet any of the other ‘Schofield Set’ (the press were quick to find a nickname). It was considered best to keep them apart until they had reached a mature enough age to deal with their unique position.
Unfortunately, over three quarters of the set never made it to that stage. A few years after, of the two hundred and forty seven known girls, all but sixteen died suddenly. They died on the same day within an hour of each other. There was no warning, the ones that died had all been in just as good health as those that lived and there were no visible causes of death. Extensive post-mortems proved inconclusive but disturbing discoveries were made in that each girl hadn’t seemed to age at all since their discovery. The latter fact was crowded out until later on.
The papers, having a fresh angle on what had become publicly accepted events in the appearance of the Schofield Set, got stuck into the deaths. Rewards were offered for any explanation but nobody claimed the money. The survivors of the mysterious purge were gathered for the first time since their beginnings and, like their parents had done a few years earlier, appealed to the public for answers.
The number was called by both amateur and professional scientists looking for their chance to explain the great mystery of the time but it was two days before anybody realised that three of the calls came on the same day, from a man called Robert Folsom and that two were calling from separate parts of the UK, the third from America and all within two hours of each other.
When the media heard about it they refused to believe in coincidence and started hunting down the three Robert Folsoms. The two from the United Kingdom were found easily. The pictures appeared the following day and the third promptly made contact. They were identical in everything from appearance, speech, physical and mental capabilities and age, each gave an age of twenty-seven. At first people shouted ‘triplets!’ but the first interview stopped the cries.
The Times beat everybody to the punch. Robert Folsom, all three of them, granted the paper the only interview they would ever give. Folsom was a biologist who specialised in the ageing process. When he was in his mid-twenties, Folsom, the only one of him that existed back then, stumbled on a method to determine the age at which somebody would die. He refused to give out his exact methods but spoke of how, judging by a person’s current rate of growth and the current state and ability of their mind and body it was possible to calculate, within a year or two, the year of their death. Realising that he himself would die at roughly eighty years old, Folsom started researching how to use what he knew about his own rate of deterioration to try and stop it entirely. This led to his discovery of the technique he called ‘splitting’.
The body, he claimed and had proved, can be split depending on how many years it has left. A man of thirty years who will die at the age of ninety can be split three times into a trio of thirty year old versions of himself. Folsom managed to make three of himself thanks to his age at the time. There was a curious by-product of the experiment in that, once ‘split’, the body didn’t age. Folsom’s physical body was still twenty-seven but his ‘splitting’ had happened forty years previously.
The girls had been an experiment. He had been trying to refine the process to split people beyond their date of death. Penelope Schofield was taken because she was young and photogenic, he needed their subsequent recovery to be high-profile in order to truly capture the attention of the world and not be treated as some bizarre event in the Fortean Times. As the years passed he thought he had succeeded, the girls weren’t ageing and had seemed outwardly healthy until the deaths. Penelope Schofield would have died, like Robert Folsom, at approximately eighty years old and now there were sixteen five year-old girls left behind to balance out the numbers.
The television appearances that followed revealed that the process was irreversible and entirely painless. All you do is enter into the ‘splitting’ machine and the buttons you press determine which of the other machines dotted around the area you exit. He had set up hundreds for Penelope but now there were only ten currently operational.
The hubbub died down and people began to review the affair in a more sober light. Had Robert Folsom committed a criminal act? If so, which one? The public seemed entirely at ease with putting one man in prison but three of the same man seemed like overkill. And besides, it was eventually decided that if he were to go to prison then his secret would go with him. Instead of having the law bear down on him Robert Folsom became funded by the government who had their eyes on the creation of a back-up Prime Minister in case of emergency.
For ten years Folsom operated with official backing, splitting either the powerful or the rich. When he had made enough money he moved on and started to offer his services at a more reasonable price. It was exceedingly successful, especially when he persuaded the sixteen still-living, forever young Schofield Set to join him in his venture. They were part of a magnificent advertising campaign that captured the world until the appearances of David Holt.
Holt had been, in his earlier days, the working partner of Robert Folsom. He had been present in the opening stages of the ‘splitting’ experiments but the two had parted ways due to personal reasons before Folsom’s success. In the years since their break-up and the commercial success of the splitting machine, Holt had followed his old friend’s career closely. When the Schofield Set almost became extinct, Holt started work on his own project determined to solve the problem caused by ‘splitting’ out of a person’s life expectancy. As Folsom’s campaign gained momentum and world attention, Holt managed to solve the problem and proceeded to put a halt to his ex-colleague’s success by splitting himself three hundred times, well beyond his age of death, and, because he had a flair for the dramatic, calling the press to three hundred separate press conferences around the country.
After the news was broken Folsom reached out to his adversary in the name of friendship and the advancement of science but Holt refused and started to set-up his own splitting business. Holt, the original Holt, whichever that may be, split himself ten more times in order to gain more manpower to increase the rate of production but, although perhaps he should have realised, the two hundred and ninety-nine others had done the same. By the end of the week there were roughly thirty-thousand.
It could not have been kept hidden for long and, the newspapers, who had been having an increasing amount of fun with the story since the very start, panicked. The same person up to ten times was fairly straight-forward and could be comprehended but the limits to which David Holt had split himself was unthinkable. But before there was any chance at public outrage, the Holts were gone. One of them, presumably the first, was found soon afterwards in an agitated state, unable to remember any of what had happened and constantly uttering ‘Folsom you bastard’.
Robert Folsom, now in an official government position refused to comment but there were murmurs that the sudden advances he made in his research could only have been made by a massive hiring of the brightest minds in the field. As far as the public was concerned, the splitting project had ended; Holt had shown how dangerous such a thing could be. There is a large chance that Folsom took his work into the many branches of the British intelligence agency but the lack of any hard evidence, though some would argue that the shooting and sudden recovery of the current Prime Minister is as much evidence as is needed, makes this impossible to prove.
The Schofield Set are still alive and living healthily in various parts of the country, they are privately funded.
I watched the car reverse into position for the sixth time before it accelerated through the lights. Anybody it hit disappeared underneath, I didn’t see them come out. At first this was curious which is why I stopped to watch. After the eighth or ninth person had tumbled under the car I got bored of the sight and carried on to the bakery to buy the bread I’d come out for. The new baker, I’d been told, was exceptional.
Having signed away his birthright, possessions, name and entire identity, his lawyer pointed out that the signature was now entirely void, the signature itself no longer recognised, and that the documentation could not be put through the correct legal channels. He offered to sign under a new name but the lawyer explained that it wouldn’t exactly be fair to sign away another man’s identity. Crestfallen, the man left the offices to the sound of his lawyer’s laughter.
James wakes up each morning and cannot remember where he put his clothes from the previous day so, without a second thought, he dons a new outfit and heads into work. He returns, each night, eats his dinner, a different meal depending on the day, watches some television and takes himself off to his bedroom. Once there, he removes his clothes, puts them God knows where, and goes to sleep. Eventually, and he has done this before, his bedroom floor will be so full of unrecognisable piles of garments that he has no choice but to move. This is his life.
As John had his headphones in when he was cursed, for accidentally pushing someone over on Oxford Street as he headed home, he had no idea why his bed was filled with locusts for the following year. Various paranormal investigators were called in but none could solve the problem. Once the curse ran out, the locusts stopped, and John could sleep again.
I was thinking one night that it’s bizarre that I can type fairly quickly but that any skills I used to have when I played the piano are long gone. Then I started thinking that if you could work out a way to make the piano keyboard more accessible then anyone could play music. What would be more accessible than a keyboard everybody’s already familiar with? This is where I need some help.
(The picture’s all squashed, click to see the full size)
(Should make it clear that on a physical version of this the keys would still be the same as they are on a QWERTY keyboard now, just that the picture above shows the corresponding notes they’d play).
The middle row there, the C to B is your standard middle octave (or whatever it’s called, I am far from musical, which might be why this turns out to be an awful idea, we’ll see). The one above would the octave above, the one below the, well, one below. I was thinking that shift and control could raise you three octaves or lower you three octaves respectively. The keys I, O, P, K, L (here listed as hashes) would somehow be your sharps and flats, not sure how yet.
Now, the reasoning behind all this is, hopefully, fairly simple. I can touch type, show me some letters on a screen and, without looking, I can tap them out fairly quickly. Almost everybody of my generation and below can do this to some extent. We’ve grown up with computer keyboards. Hence the above.
Once you have these keyboards all you would, in theory, need is a way of notating music that everybody’s already familiar. If you ‘translated’ regular sheet music into the corresponding letters of the keyboard above, then, again, in theory, anybody who can type could play it. I think. New ways of writing out rests, timing and so on might be needed, or just some basic instruction as to how time signatures work but the actual work and practice in learning how to physically play a piano would already have been done. Also, you should be able to play 6-8 note chords over three octaves. You wouldn’t have the range of a piano which is a pity.
The really exciting thing is that, if this works, you could play sentences. Maybe even come up with new chords based on suffixes and prefixes. For example, -ed at the end of the sentence would become a chord (a major and minor E played together in this instance).
There would be problems, the keys are all fairly close together and working out the speed at which sentences would be played is tricky. But it must be built first!
I need some help in making this to see if it works. I have no idea how to make a programme which will allow me to play it on a computer. ALSO! I know there’s some version of this in GarageBand but it isn’t, I feel, as intuitive as mine. I might be wrong, they might have done something I haven’t found. Apologies if they have.
Anyway, I should sleep.
James looked through the windows of the future zoo, regularly spaced into the blue wooden walls of the enclosure. The mechanical diggers ate the ground with animal growls. A giraffe craned over them, it’s counterbalance keeping it upright. Amongst them all were the zookeepers in high-visibility fluorescent jackets specially designed to intimidate the animals and keep them at bay.
They had started to appear with a previously unfamiliar frequency inside most of the large cities. Huge buildings would disappear as the future zoos forced their way into the present timeline. The walls would go up, windows would appear, inside lay the pen. Nobody entered, the doors always remained locked. Occasionally the workers would exit to get some supplies, possibly to feed the animals. Over time, apparently linked to how large the replaced buildings were, the original structure would gradually force it’s correct period. They would almost rebuild themselves as they came back, starting with a foundation, then a skeleton, then the outsides of the building itself. It was a difficult phenomenon to measure due to how gradual it was. On average, a building took a few months before it had completely returned. The future zoos were, presumably, been eased back into the future.
The London Underground works through a process of shaky and lengthy process of teleportation. Or folding space. I’m not sure which one yet. I think about it a lot. I don’t often get the tube, usually it’s just the trip from Finsbury Park to Oxford Circus. Sometimes I get it in the other direction. That is, from Oxford Circus to Finsbury Park. Other than those two routes, I walk. The other day I got the tube to Southgate and the first thing I saw upon exiting the art deco station was a Wimpy’s. I hadn’t included ‘time machine’ into my list of things the Underground is capable of.
I’ve often read people’s opinions on the tube. The overall consensus is the bizarre feeling that you aren’t really travelling at all. As if, while you’re underground, some giant child is rearranging their Lego set into an order that wasn’t on the box. When you emerge from the comfortable womb of the tube, it’s almost surprising that you’re in a different place. The same people must have a problem with the idea of cause and effect. After all, why get on the tube if you expect to get off it at the same place you got on? Surely the London Eye is what they want? Madness.
No, it is a lengthy process of teleportation. The train entering a portal as it speeds off down the track, entering a void for a few minutes while it’s end point is determined, then atomically rebuilt at the next stop. Or folding space. The spaces underneath the ground being much smaller than the journey. Have you ever tried to drive from Euston to Oxford Circus? The distance seems much longer than the few minutes the train takes to traverse it.
People complain about the tube. That it’s late. Inefficient. Incapable of providing the service needed for one of the largest cities in the world. Most of these people, in between their worrying that the tube hasn’t arrived since two minutes ago, fail to notice how absurd it is that it exists in the first place. In G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday, the poet Syme argues with the anarchist Gregory along similar lines. Gregory argues that the common man is depressed that his ticket for Victoria will take him to Victoria. The poet Syme replies:
‘The rare, string thing is to hit the mark; the gross, obvious thing is to miss it. We feel it is epical when man with one wild arrow strikes a distant bird, Is it not also epical when man with one wild engine strikes a distant station? Chaos is dull; because in chaos the train might indeed go anywhere, to Baker Street, or Bagdad. But man is a magician, and his whole magic is in this, that he does say Victoria and lo! it is Victoria.’
“I tell you that every time a train comes in I feel that it has broken past batteries of besiegers, and that man has won a battle against chaos…and when I hear the guard shout out “Victoria”, it is not an unmeaning word. It is to me the cry of a herald announcing conquest. It is to me indeed “Victoria”; it is the victory of Adam.’
It is easy to forget just how much could go wrong with your train that arrives every two minutes. Sometimes it does, but those times are not as common as when it doesn’t. Consider that, when you go underground, everything you see has been designed and made by someone like yourself and that, most importantly, on the whole, it works. There is a beauty in that order amongst so much potential chaos. I have been living in London for the last 18 months and every journey on the Victoria line is a thing of joy for me.
Except on weekends. When the fucker doesn’t run.
My son was a curious but not necessarily bright child. He could spend hours in a library or museum looking at everything but I’m not entirely sure how much he understood. Maybe his brain was storing it all somewhere, rearranging it into an order which he could cope with, in the hope that eventually the final connection would be made and he’d understand it all. I think that’s what happened with the treasure map.
The treasure map was a surprise, I’ll admit that. He would always stop off in antique markets on the way home from school. His mother was constantly in a stupor over where he could be until he arrived, hours later, with a few old books under his arm, or an ancient lamp or, in this case, a treasure map. Admittedly, it was a lovely piece of work and the age of it alone was incredibly satisfying. It was one of those scraps of paper that would always feel dusty and demanded to be handled with care in case it suddenly decided it had had enough and crumbled itself into fine pieces.
It was written in a ridiculous code. The owner of the stall had told my son that it had been around for years. At first it had fetched huge amounts at auctions as rumours spread of the treasure it led to but, as time went on and it began to become clear that nobody could work out the intricacies of the system, it decreased in value steadily until it had ended up in the hands of the antique stall proprietor. Now my son had it.
It took him about three days, I imagine he just left the problem alone in his head as his mind found a way to make it fit. It turned out to be the final part of the puzzle. For the rest of the school day, he didn’t leave early, that would have been dishonest, he could answer most of the questions set by his teachers with ease and, instead of shopping as usual, he came, ran, straight home.
The first I knew of it was after he’d packed his bag and descended the stairs to ask if he could borrow a few hundred pounds. At first he refused to explain, only insisting that he’d be able to pay it back within two weeks but I didn’t believe him and carried on with my work. To reply, he brought down the map and took me through the solution. I won’t pretend to understand it entirely, even now it’s pretty much beyond me, but it did make sense. I lent him the money on the condition that he’d allow me to go with him. He agreed, I withdrew the money and we got the train to Kent.
We didn’t find the treasure, of course, somebody else had beaten us to it when a large apartment block had been built and, in the course of the laying of the foundations, a huge amount of gold had been found. Millions of pounds worth according to the small section dedicated to the find in the visitor’s centre. The money had been used to restore a nearby park which had been effectively destroyed by the building work.
My son didn’t seem too worried. He had solved the riddle which had eluded many others after all. I was a little more disappointed than he was, we really needed the money at the time.