Even Shirley MacLaine couldn’t have predicted the burst of attention her article got overnight. Harriet was even more popular than the latest video released by PewDiePie. She couldn’t help but feel a little giddy, like a God. The identity of BigBrother84 was a more valuable secret than the identity of Spider-Man – shared between only a handful of people to protect her privacy and to avoid becoming a social outcast.
For five years onward, after everyone in the supermarket, on the news, on Twitter, said that BigBrother84 was likely to be a one-hit-wonder in the world of ‘journalism,’ she found it too excitng to not prove them wrong just as she did the teachers and students who always said that her place was better spent at home than in an office. With an ear sensitive to gossip and a regular seat at the bingo hall, Harriet listened to the words pouring out of her rival players that gave her more material than a fashion designer.
“There’s a cult in the burger shop,” one old woman said. “They meet every Thursday night.” The true story was that Peggy Carter, the owner, hosted a special evening for Bronies on that night.
“Did you know a cannibal lives near St Peter Chapel?” A man with a big cowboy hat said. She found this story to be false since there wasn’t enough evidence to prove it but she couldn’t help but feel something off about the old woman who lived in the dilapidated house near it.
“I heard someone tried to make teenagers feel depressed,” a former teacher at St Nicholas High School said. This was a strange one but before she could research it, the fire burned away all the evidence.
BigBrother84 became some kind of superhero in the neighbourhood, especially to children, teenagers and young adults – you know, the ones who use social media like air – but most who were past their prime would call them a nosy parker with no social life. They even believed they could have been some cat lady living in St Christopher Hostel with nothing but her ‘babies’ to keep her company. What kept her going through the toughest of critiques was thinking that one day she’d find the story that would secure her fame and glory, her War and Peace if you will, she just didn’t know what it would be.
On the 11th November 2019, Harriet had just completed an exposé on abuse on the residents in St Anthony Retirement Castle when her mind reflected back on her time with Mrs Pine and how much she had influenced her life,she was her muse if you will. After Mrs Pine’s death, Harriet considered quitting due to grief but there was no chance of that since she had no other source of income to cover her student debts and rent and utilities which meant she had to stay on a little longer even though she wished she didn’t have to.
This thought depressed her – she needed to find that one story before her boss set her up for a new loss. While fiddling with a draft of a resignation letter she was never going to send, the doorbell went off – the one who pushed it was none other than Nellie O’Connor. Nellie had taken Harriet out to the cinema for a day out which they hadn’t done since her boyfriend proposed. She needed some time away from the planning – the dress was like a Picasso, the cake smelt like cat’s pee, the best man came up with a morbid stag night in Maryhill – Harriet was the first person she wanted to be with that day because of how little she had to do with it other than attend it.
St Endelienta Cinema was playing a John Grisham double bill that day – The Pelican Brief and A Time To Kill – at two o’clock so they decided to head for a bite at Peggy’s burger shop for a bit of lunch. Harriet had a double quarter ponder, chicken strips and a large coke while Nellie had a salad with a cup of tea – despite how desperate she was to finally eat something fatty after dieting for her wedding dress which had a built-in corset.
“I still don’t get what you saw in that guy to even consider marrying him,” Harriet said with a chunk of beef in her mouth.
“In Adam?” Nellie said with a bit of lettece in her hand. “I guess what you saw in becoming you-know-who. Something that would complete me.”
“He knows what it’s like to want to escape the horrors of reality.”
“You can’t escape reality! Anyone who tells you that you can is either a child or has a GPA 0.00005 which is probably the equivalent of a child’s brain.”
“I said want to escape the horrors of reality. Not actually escape reality. We get that life sucks but we just want to live with the regular annoyances – like paying taxes or dealing with bullies. All we want is to get away from corrupt politicians and toxic feminists so we can live the lives everyone has.”
“Never was appealed by those kinds of livestyles.”
“Yes but you’re an odd little duckling, aren’t you? Like Emily Brontë.”
“I’m not shy.”
“It’s not a perfect simile.”
Harriet had finished her burger and Nellie her salad when Nellie asked Harriet a question which we can consider the turning point of this story since it will be at this point that BigBrother84 found their magnum opus, if they ever published the story.
“So… you know how you like to hear the local gossip?”
“I haven’t been talking to myself since we’ve met, have I?”
“Yeah, scratch that. Point is: there’s something going on in my neck of the woods I thought you’d like to know.”
Harriet sat up, back straighter than a ruler and looking to her friend with that same amount of attention a soldier would give on a mission.
“Tell me,” she said.
Nellie told a tale about a strange man who lived in the house where everyone claimed could scream like Jamie Lee Curtis but it didn’t sound like a human, it didn’t even sound like an animal. Many rumours and theories managed to circle around that house that was either partical or as madder than Villanelle. The one Nellie preached was that the screams that were said to be the house’s were actually his wife’s. According to the obituaries Nellie found in the library, his wife was in a car accident and died on the way to the hospital however, if you asked the right nurse or doctor, they would tell you that there was no record of her being there – dead or alive.
“It might sound like paranoia,” she continued. “But if you look at all the plot holes and inconsistencies with the events along with a pinch of logic, it makes a lot of sense.”
“I suppose,” Harriet said, still sitting in the same position. “But there’s still nothing concrete, is there?”
“Uh, no. That’s why I was telling you about it. I remembered how much you loved playing detective, even when the police told you otherwise, and figured you’d eat this story up like it was Baked Alaska.”
“The police thought I was robbing that oil tycoon – they told me off for stealing, not snooping. That honour went to my father.”
Even long before finding out about his affair, Harriet’s father always stressed the importance of omission for surviving everyday life: “No one likes a wandering eye,” that was his mantra.
“What do you think, anyway,” Nellie asked.
“Hmm,” Harriet was thinking. “ it does sound like an interesting claim…but there are so many variables in it. I’m just not that sure.”
“Wow! Where did this sense of self-awareness come from?”
“I am an adult; I know when a situation will get me killed.”
“This coming from the woman who has a private reputation for breaking and entering so she could spy on potential criminals?”
“When it’s something simple like a corrupt politician I can deal with it since it’s something I can plan for in case I get attacked, but with something vaguer than one of Ezra Pound’s poems that’s when I cross the line. You can’t prepare for an apocalypse when you don’t know what’s gonna cause it.”
“Oh, my God…you’re going soft.”
The fire in Harriet’s eyes glowed a little brighter than usual (this time it wasn’t determination; this time it was anger).
“The heck are you talking about?”
“The Harriet Bly I knew from high school wouldn’t worry about these kinds of things – death, other world life, the unknown – in fact, she would jump at the chance to face it head-on even when everyone told her not to. Look, I know where adult now and we’ve got more responsibility that we had back then but if there’s anyone who could shine a light on the obscure it had to be you – BigBrother84!”
Luckily she hadn’t screamed it or else it would have all been for not. It seemed like the only person who heard Nellie was Peggy but, thankfully, she was one of the few that knew – Peggy Carter was the one that told her about a potential werewolf living in the outskirts (a story she was yet to prove).
Harriet knew what Nellie said was true: Harriet was the last person to close her eyes during a horror film, but the rumours she worked with were usually based in reality – or at least about things that were already possible. Cosmic horror was not something she was familiar with so going to investigate it would be like building a cabinet with French instructions. Then she remembered Mrs Pine, the justice she accomplished and the adrenaline she found evading the police.
“You know what? Screw it. Where does this guy live?”