Geoff Nelder has written one of my favorite science fiction stories, ARIA: Left Luggage. He has a unique approach to the genre so I looked forward to his contribution to Twisted Tales. He lived up to my expectations shiningly with his short story Prime Meridian. Perhaps the most complex of the stories in the anthology, it is both scientific and humorous.
The story of Chingford’s alcoholic teacher John Forrister and the holes that begin appearing in his house grabbed my full attention quickly. In addition to enjoying his indulgence in alcohol this exceptionally tall single man likes to watch his neighbor, Teresa Czeremchka, as she goes about her evening ablutions. Translation: he’s a bit of a peeping Tom, though more by opportunity than design.
What’s causing the mysterious holes? Is it a shooting star or fireworks? In desperation he calls on his friend Alan Cooper, head of Physics at the high school. Cooper is thrilled to opine there are meteorites hitting Forrister’s house. Apparently these odd strikes occur “around three fifteen” every day. Of course the activity could be caused by plane rivets exploding off planes that fly over the house at the same time daily. Or perhaps some weather satellite is discarding pieces. As Forrister and Cooper toss back a couple of brews the reason for the title of the story is revealed. Chingford is located on Greenwich Meridian.
Meanwhile the sexy neighbor seems overly concerned with the condition of Forrister’s now hole-y roof. She is not very fond of old John since she has seen him peeping on her. However she was friends with his grandfather (the original owner of the house) and that seems to give him some value in her estimation. She even offers to set up an appointment with a builder to work on his roof. The builder offers yet another possible reason for the holes; kids place bits of scrap metal on the railway tracks and when hit by trains the metal is projected into the air.
Good friend Cooper doesn’t give up on solving the mystery of the holes and contacts a geophysicist from Canada who thinks the “thing” causing the holes might be “tektites” better known as ejecta from volcanoes. My first thought at this point in the story was, “I didn’t know there were volcanoes in England”.
Now there are several possible explanations for this bizarre phenomena; scrap metal from the railway, or perhaps kids throwing stones at the house, the flight paths of airlines, pieces of a weather station in space, or volcanic rock shot into the air thousands of miles away. That still belabors the question, how does this happen at the same time every day? And how long can it go on before John Forrister is living in a hole-riddled house? What does this have to do with the location of the house on the Prime Meridian?
Forrister resorts going to the police. Needless to say they found it all amusing. He considers selling his house but a real estate agent is not terribly encouraging. Finally, deciding he needed some visible evidence of what was causing the holes, he determines to film the house. The best view would be from neighbor Teresa’s penthouse. She reluctantly agrees to allow him to use her window. Of course circumstances occur preventing him from seeing anything. And when his friend Cooper arrives yet another theory surfaces; the Chinese have developed a satellite they can use to knock out other satellites. Soon even supernatural/religious explanations are put forth. A hole in a crucifix jacks up the value of the house. The belief that “the hand of God” went through the crucifix spreads through the religious community.
By now Nelder’s story has grown in absurdity and I was scratching my head. Where the heck was this going? The characters are compelling. I was particularly fascinated by the neighbor, Teresa. She seemed to alternate between helpful and hostile. Forrister himself is almost pitiful. The ever curious and very scientific Alan Cooper stands by his friend, determined to solve the mystery as much to satisfy his own curiosity as to help Forrister.
Eventually Forrister is offered an immense amount of money for his mysterious house of holes. Needless to say he jumps on the deal and joyfully announces his upcoming move away from the neighborhood. In about eleven days Forrister has gone from alcoholic teacher to a rather wealthy man, no longer to be troubled by holes in a house.
The resolution of the story is another example of Nelder’s wonderful sense of humor. But, being the skilled story teller he is, he leaves us with enough of puzzle to say, “What the hell?”
This story stands out as a humorous exploration of human curiosity and the never ending desire to find an explanation for things, no matter how absurd. There is always someone willing to pay high dollars for the inexplicable so they can put their own spin on it. But sometimes the answer lies right under our noses, or at the bottom of our coffee cup.