The first time I saw him was in late summer, maybe around the start of August. It had felt like one of those summers that’s over before it’s really begun; everyone’s eyes are sore from squinting in the overbearing sun, the pubs are all packed out with lads drinking overly fizzer lager, and every discernible patch of grass is swarming with the usual mix of students cooking cheap sausages on disposable barbecues, and the smartly dressed businesspeople eating their Sainsbury’s meal deals before they return to the cool of their office.
I had the day off work and I was out in the city centre with my housemates. We’d come to the realisation that the summer heat was getting less persistent, the bright days were getting shorter, and the urge to enjoy what warmth was left was overwhelming. Invariably we ended up in a pub, one of the few that wasn’t so overcrowded as to make it impossible to find somewhere to sit. We sat in a corner table, and I was facing inwards, with a full view of the room and those within it. That was it. That was the first time. I saw him, leaning against the bar with one elbow firmly planted on a sodden beer mat. He seemed to be alone, he had no drink and was not speaking to anyone. He seemed to be staring right at me.
My initial instinct when I first noticed him was to immediately look away. It’s weird, I don’t know if this happens with everyone, but when I notice someone staring at me I look away. It’s like I feel embarrassed, or like I’ve been rude. I shouldn’t feel rude! You’re the one staring! You should feel fucking rude! It reminds me of that bit in Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre, where he talks about not being aware of ourselves as an objective reality, outside of our own consciousness, until we notice someone watching us. Now in this case, that person who I thought was watching me looked exactly like Fred Dinenage.
I don’t know if you know him, but he used to present How 2, amongst other things. Not particularly well known, and by no means an A-list celebrity. However, he had a vaguely recognisable visage, and I used to watch How 2 a lot when I was a kid. Unfortunately, neither of my housemates knew who he was, so when I whispered my suspicions that he was in this pub, and appeared to gazing pretty intensely at me, it was more or less lost on my disinterested audience. After an exasperated sigh at the ignorance of my companions, I looked back over to the bar, only to find that the man I thought was Fred Dinenage was gone. A few drinks later and I’d forgotten what had happened.
That strange occurrence didn’t cross my mind at all for the next two or three days. I was preoccupied with the usual boring things that make up most of a normal person’s life; a mistake on my phone bill that I was trying to get sorted, a change to my shift at work which meant getting up earlier, and trying to work out whether the cereal bars I had been eating were actually healthy or not. This is the kind of banal shit that was occupying my mind as I pushed a shopping trolley around the supermarket, thoughtlessly dropping in bananas and toothpaste and tiny microwavable pizzas. I had turned into the bakery aisle, looking ahead but not really paying attention to what I was seeing.
He was there again. He was stood about halfway down the aisle, perusing the many loaves on the shelves before him. I was looking at him side on, but I was so sure it was him. Fred Dinenage. Again. I was motionless as I tried to work out what I should do. There was nobody else in the aisle, but I still felt like I looked stupid to someone, stood there staring in silence. My feet started to move. I was gazing at him, I felt like my neck stretching forward, and my eyeballs reaching out of my skull, trying to get a closer look at him. I suddenly became aware that my legs were actually taking me backwards. It felt totally involuntary, like I was being controlled by some otherworldly force. I turned away and walked back out of the aisle. I went straight to the checkouts, paid for my things and left. I never did get any bread.
I felt really weird about speaking to anyone about it, especially because of the dismissive responses I got the first time I saw him. I didn’t end up speaking to anyone about seeing him in the supermarket. I probably should have, it might have turned into some funny anecdote instead of a genuinely haunting moment of surreal terror. My thoughts returned to the usual malaise of what my one of my workmates always refers to as “life admin”. Vapid prick. This time however, Fred Dinenage did linger at the back of my mind. He turned up in my dreams, faceless and hidden by shadows, but always watching me.
Two days later I was walking to work. This journey largely consists of one long, straight road which more or less takes me from my front door to my office. About halfway down this road, there is a small park, with a set of two swings and a slide. It’s usually empty, because I start work shortly after most kids are at school. On that day it was not empty. This time, he looked younger. He had a checked shirt and dark blue jeans. He looked like he did when he was on TV. Exactly as I remembered him. He was sat on a swing looking out at the road, watching the traffic. He didn’t seem to see me, even as I strayed directly into his field of view. I approached him slowly.
“Excuse me. I’m sorry, this might be really weird, but are you Fred Dinenage?”
“The guy from How 2, right? Ha, you’re not the first to have asked me that, I will admit that. I’ve never actually seen that programme, but yeah, I am definitely aware that I apparently look just like that guy. Sorry to disappoint you.”
He sounded exactly like Fred Dinenage. He had the same warm smile and that fatherly tone, the kind to really put you at ease.
“Are you… I’m sorry, have… I’m sorry.”
I suddenly felt very confused and afraid. Like a really acute sense of shame, but not quite. It’s hard to describe. I walked away, almost running. I went straight to work and had conversations about how busy we were, what was on TV, and how annoying the new shifts were. Anything to convince myself that I wasn’t losing my mind. I was so scared. I stayed at work until very late that night. I got more done in that day than I normally do in a month. It felt like all I could do to keep away the idea that I was really losing touch with reality.
When I got home, the front door was ajar. All the lights in the house were off. I cautiously made my way into the hallway and groped for the light switch. I flicked it, twice, maybe three times. Nothing. I stood there in the shadows and listened to my own shallow breathing. When I found the strength to hold my breath, I became immediately aware that he was there with me, in the darkened hallway, masked by shadows. Just like in my dreams.
Suddenly he was upon me. His hand on my shoulder, he pushed my back against the wall. In his other hand was a long kitchen knife with a black plastic handle. I think it was one of ours, he must have taken it from the kitchen. He pointed the end of the knife into the side of my throat, I felt the cold metal and ceased whatever physical resistance my instincts had convinced my body to attempt.
“I am Fred Dinenage because I killed Fred Dinenage. I cut his fucking neck until all his blood fell out and he fucking died. Then I ate him. I ate his flesh and I drank his blood. I ate all of his fucking organs and I became Fred Dinenage. I consumed him and all the fucking blackness that was within him. I swallowed all of the pain and anguish, and I digested it. I drank his grief and became transcendent. I became an unreality and I pushed through the veil of subjective sense experience. Then I turned around and I tore the veil away completely. I fucking burnt it, and all at once I felt everything and nothing, and they were one and the same.”
I could feel my leg itch as I pissed through my trousers. Tears began to sting my eyes and I found myself making a low whimpering sound. I think at this point, the soft skin of my throat had given way to the tip of the knife, and it had gone about a quarter of an inch into my neck. I didn’t really feel it though. He continued to speak to me, though never at me.
“I am the infinite ocean and the great madness. I am the undoing. I am death and I am come to wash clean those unyielding fields of consciousness that starve existence out of meaning. There is no time. There never was. There never was a ‘was’.”
He then pushed the full length of the blade into my neck. It felt like it took fucking ages. Once the handle was pressing against my Adam’s apple, he pulled the knife horizontally across my throat. He seemed to have a superhuman strength in doing this. It didn’t seem to tax him physically, it was all steady and controlled. It was clinical. I felt a vague discomfort, but not really pain. Like when you have a tooth taken out; you’re anaesthetised so it’s not really pain, but there’s this really deep sense of pressure as you feel the deep roots of your tooth being tugged around, parts of your body that you don’t normally feel, and that you’re not normally aware of. I felt the warmth of blood spill down across my shirt. Everything went dark and I could no longer feel the floor beneath me, nor the cold air of my hallway. I couldn’t feel anything. There was nothing, but I was in it. I was consumed by it. It felt like seeing an old friend who you love very much, and who you have missed dearly. Like their warm smile, and their compassionate embrace. In that instance I felt true happiness and unbridled love.
As I died, I heard the voice of Fred Dinenage, whispering with absolute tenderness.
“That’s how… For now.”