Southwark, London



Slightly Sinister Fiction // Glitch

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How much misery circulates through the tunnels of the London Underground every day? Really, all things considered, I’m suprised the effects haven’t been a whole lot worse…



You don’t really notice till it’s not there. Everybody’s doing their very best to keep the established social norms up to par. No unusual body language. No random screaming. The absence of normal is making you frown slightly but the little glitch is subsumed in the banality of the journey. The robot wants food, sleep, TV Prozac, not to deal an unsettling twitch in your perceived reality.

But the glitch has established itself now. A tiny disruptive pattern on the edge of your thoughts. Settled in for the night unless you can figure out a rational explanation.

Prod the hippocampus. Replay it again.

The man in the white vest clearly entered the lift. You saw him. White vest jarring with the commuter slick suits of your fellow travellers. Not one of the gang. You saw him step into the lift. You saw the lift doors close. Instant claustrophobic terror. Get distracted. Reconfigured the woman in a blue outfit (vast improvement), wondered if Reykjavik is a cool place to go on holiday and think of at least ten reasons why it’s just fine to get a cat. The lift reaches terra firma. Doors open. Franchised storefronts blaring coffee and ties. Panic attack averted.

The spatial awareness of big city living tells you the man in the white vest is close behind as you exit the lift. Step to one side. Let him past whilst you hunt for travel passes stashed somewhere on autopilot. He’s definitely right behind you. You were first to exit the lift. That’s how it works.

He’s not. Hell, he’s not anywhere. Glitch.

Somebody has violated the commuter social contract. People who get into lifts get out of them. There’s no script for how to deal with people simply being no longer there. You can’t miss a human being at less than two meters. They don’t get to sneak past you. Leave right now. Leave the station. This is exactly the sort of thing your brain doesn’t want to deal with.

Your brain likes rational explanations for life’s little reality twitches. Likes them cleaned up and tided away. 1630AD. Meteors showers become messages from god. 1989 and inexplicable lights in the night sky are always lens flare. Pretty much anything will do but it needs some fabrication that will safely recategorise abnormal into a less alarming context. It’s easily conned but demands you at least make an effort to help it out.

But lifts have now moved up to a high-ranking anomaly problem. You can’t ignore the fact they don’t appear to be playing by the rules any more but can’t find a plausible lie to smooth the jarring breach with.

The trains echoing backwash fills the concourse. Gradually slow your pace. Count your imminent fellow lift passengers. These are the rules now. Try to ignore the anticipatory anxiety of claustrophobia. Try not to feel too much like you know this is ridiculous. Seven people. An easy fit into cavernous rush hour lift designed for three times that number. Seven people in. Seven people out. Normality confirmed and your brain can go about its daily business untroubled.

The glitch begins to fade into the indistinct internal chatter of the day-to-day living. Late? Lost? Salad or Sushi? Paper over the crack a little and it’s almost like the it never happed. A cursory check establishes all commuters are present and correct. Number match. They always match. Every single day. They always match until the woman is gone.

She stood the back. Fake Channel Handbag carelessly slung over office sensible shirt. Nineteen are eighteen. One traveller down. No recounts necessary. You swallow. Try to swallow. Your mouth is too dry.

The screaming is in your head. Your body language is only slightly off. At a casual glance you’re troubled, distracted. The end of a relationship? No promotion at work? There’s a myriad selection of life’s less pleasant possibilities. Nobody would consider you might be losing your mind. You only look away for a second. Maybe less. The woman. Vanished. A grey suited businessman swiftly takes ownership of the remaining space as though it never happened. Only you’re sure, utterly sure it did.

It takes you a while to work it out. Numbers in a notebook. Camden station in July and nine people become eight. Euston, August, nine thirty and seventeen commuters become sixteen. Not everybody who walks into lifts continues their journey but who cares to notice? Proximity to anomalies breeds’ encephalon defences and nobody wants to catch a glitch.

People should read signs more. That’s really what they’re there for. In a city only hanging onto functionality by its fingertips you’d think they maybe would. There’s no room for ignoring design confines when thousand of commuters need to reach their destination. The fragmented human input to control waves of travellers creates something greater than the whole. The footfall of thousands fuels cognizance. The desire to be home by seven thirty feeds its instincts.

When the lift says maximum capacity it probably means it now.

I always take the stairs.

Comment: 1

  • Peter Snejbjerg
    12/01/2011 3:11 pm

    Hope that picture is photoshopped or something… it makes me feel weird in my tummy. I think I’ll stay aboveground for now.

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