The Last Folly
Jack Fuller was fuming. His latest masterpiece — or folly, as local wags had it — wasn’t going according to plan. As it was to be his home until judgement day, could anybody blame him for being so particular about its construction?
If he’d told the builder once, he’d told him a thousand times: the burial chamber had to be high enough to hold him sitting astride a velocipede, which is how he intended to meet his maker, rolling right through the pearly gates. Yet on his last site visit he’d barely had room to stand. That and a wholly unwarranted remark about his girth compelled him to fire the oaf and bring in someone qualified.
Brunel was summoned, but sent apologies as he was otherwise occupied and would be for some time. Other lesser talents came for interviews, all singularly uninspiring. Just as he was about to admit defeat, a gentleman appeared at his front door, introduced by his butler as Herr Schrödinger.
“This is easily done,” the German announced after Jack detailed his specifications. “Child’s play. But it lacks.”
“Lacks what?” asked Jack after a pause sufficient to allow the man to finish what he assumed was an unfinished sentence.
Schrödinger gazed at him impassively. “What is missing cannot be shown on the drawing board,” he said finally. “But I can supply it nonetheless.”
“What is it?” Jack nearly shouted, his curiosity tinged with exasperation.
“You will trust me,” announced Schrödinger, eyebrows raised slightly in reprimand. “When it is completed, if you do not like, you do not have to pay.”
This ratcheted up Jack’s levels of intrigue to nearly intolerable levels. It seemed he had no choice but to trust the mysterious foreigner.
Schrödinger worked fast, the very next day demolishing the partially built structure. When Jack protested, he was met with a shrug of the shoulders and a Teutonic “This must be done.” Thereafter the site was shrouded by sailcloth, the lord of the manor himself forbidden entry.
Weeks passed, then months. Jack put it out of his mind as best as he could, attending to the many other demands on his attention. He often crisscrossed his vast estate on one of his “contraptions”, as the rector put it; the man was god-fearing and wheel averse, sure the devil had something to do the unnatural mount.
Jack was known to all significant makers of velocipede in the southeast. He had the latest model draisienne, of course: a svelte Dawes Dandy (only 3 stone!), still with its showroom polish thanks to his stable boy. That was his Sunday best, which he’d named Daisy in honour of an erstwhile paramour. Parked next to her were competitors in various states of repair, all cherished for the thrills they provided on his beloved Wealden hills.
He had even obtained, from Scotland, a prototype ‘Macmillan’. This machine used a rear-wheel drive, which excited him tremendously; or would, if it could ever be gotten to work.
One fine spring day, nine months after he had appeared on Jack’s doorstep, Schrödinger came calling. “It is completed,” he said without preamble. They went to the churchyard, where the squire’s influence had secured a prodigiously sized plot.
The unveiling was accomplished without ceremony.
There were gasps from the small crowd of onlookers that had gathered. The rector looked mortified, the consecrated ground in his care now inhabited by… what, exactly? Not having visited Jack’s fine library, or possessed of an interest in worldly pictorials, he had never before in his life laid eyes on a pyramid.
Jack was delighted: this was a structure to inspire awe as befitting his stature in life, as well as allow him sufficient clearance to await eternal developments atop Daisy.
Schrödinger led him through the portal of his new pyramid, and the future arrived in ways he could not yet begin to imagine.
The inside was far larger than the outside. “This is not possible!” Jack cried, suddenly as god-fearing as the tremulous rector.
“The sphinx I took the liberty of importing from Luxor,” said Schrödinger. “You will, I hope, forgive the unorthodox placement within the structure; there was no room in the churchyard to fit the pair of them.
“Illumination has been provided via an aperture hidden in the apex. It is not entirely dissimilar to that installed in your nearby observatory to facilitate the camera obscura. The quantity of light admitted would not impress Ra, but it does the job.
“The placement of the Nile I could of course do nothing about. This is the River Dudwell, or rather a man-made tributary.” Jack had not the wit to ask how it had been induced to flow uphill.
“I have laid a modest strip of macadam for your velocipede,” the builder continued. “I think you will find it leads to a very interesting place.”
Surely not the hereafter…?
It was as if Schrödinger had read his mind. “I do not think you will confuse it with heaven. But it does have its charms.”
He then turned to face an awestruck Jack and announced: “You are pleased.” It wasn’t a question. They exited the pyramid.
“My work here is done,” he said. “I will bill you.” And with that he bowed and took his leave.
The bill arrived promptly. Jack paid it without complaint, though it was enough to bankrupt a lesser fortune. Yet he did not return to the pyramid, sensing the infernal in his bid for the eternal. What had he gotten himself into? He struck himself as eminently rational; this smacked of the dark arts.
Hoping that matrimonial bliss might take his mind off this troubling turn of events, he impulsively proposed to Daisy, reeling her in again with a vicuña stole then offering her a ring with a diamond the size of a blueberry, baked into a muffin. Unfortunately she tried to eat it, chipped a tooth, and turned him down on the spot.
He considered starting construction on another folly, even going so far as to get planning permission for a circle of trilithons to rival Stonehenge. This was a pagan construction too far for the rector, who threatened to leave his post. Jack always had need of a pliable man of God, so he dropped it.
One night he had a particularly vivid dream in which he took his dandy draisenne into the pyramid, set himself on it, and started down the road inside. Presently he found himself in the company of an odd assortment of characters, including a talking snake. On awakening he couldn’t remember what the snake had said, but felt that it may have been something important.
That day felt the longest of his life. Apprehension and curiosity battled inside his head until curiosity won. In the cool of the evening he wheeled Daisy into what he prayed would not be their premature dead end.
As soon as he got onto the macadem he shoved off without allowing himself to think twice. Whatever lay ahead, they would face it together.
It’s one thing to find a never-ending road inside a pyramid you’ve just built. It’s entirely another to become bored. For this appeared to be a road to nowhere.
The scenery was pleasant enough, but that wasn’t exactly a draw, given that his estate held a commanding view over the best Sussex had to offer. The roads turned miraculously smooth within a mile or two — he assumed this was a high-tech German invention — but after a while, he rather took that for granted.
Suddenly a carriage passed by going at speed, nearly knocking him off Daisy. The man in charge of it shouted what may have been an insult; Jack would have to look it up in his latest edition of Dr Johnson’s dictionary.
Peculiarly, there were no horses hauling the carriage. Could it be an enclosed velocipede, powered by a team of strong men inside?
He saw more of them, and it became clear they were propelled by a force other than the passengers. He began to suspect Schrödinger had had a hand in this business.
Presently he came into a village that he almost did not recognise, for there was scarcely anything of his acquaintance other than the old church, St. Bartholomew’s. He was in Burwash.
Some of the fine old houses still stood, but others were evidently of a more recent vintage. Carriages were parked all along the road. He was passed by another gentleman on two wheels, but what wheels! He would need Dr Johnson’s dictionary to even attempt to describe what his eyes bore witness to.
The man was dressed in particularly vulgar attire, hewing so closely to his skin that Jack initially averted his eyes to spare him embarrassment. When they both passed two ladies on the pavement without comment or call to the constable (the man propelling himself with much alacrity, Jack noted with chagrin as he rapidly fell behind), it was clear that he had either become touched, was once more dreaming, or…
An incredible idea began to form.
While never a clothes horse, Jack did take note of fashion from time to time — particularly, to how it slowly changed. It struck him more in wonderment than in horror that perhaps he had in fact fallen asleep in the pyramid, and awoken much, much later.
He approached one of the women and asked said, “Begging your pardon, but could you perhaps inform me as to what year it is?”
The woman boldly and rather frankly stared him up and down, then smiled. “Are you here for the panto?” she asked. “Or is this street theatre?”
Jack was nonplussed. “It is a simple question,” he said. “I should be grateful if you gave it the full attention of your admittedly weaker mind.”
At that her face immediately darkened, but her companion laughed merrily.
“He’s having you on!” she said. Then, addressing him: “Sir, it is the year of our lord 2020. I do hope you will find it to your satisfaction!”
They then crossed the road, leaving Jack, for once in his life, absolutely speechless.
Jack sought refuge in the church, which was unlike him. After a time a woman sat near to him and said, “You look troubled.”
“Indeed, madam, you find me in a sorry state,” he replied.
“Can I help?” she asked. “I’m the rector.”
At this Jack nearly fell off the pew. “Wonders never cease!”
The woman smiled, a bit thinly, and pointed to the small white rectangle at her neck confirming her clerical duties. He had thought her dress a bit drab.
Still, if there was a God (and of course there was, just because Jack and He usually kept some distance from each-other), and this woman in her official capacity represented Him, he could do worse than unburden himself. This he then did.
“I see,” she said when he had finished. She was then quiet for a bit. Finally, she asked brightly, “Would you like a cup of tea?”
During the course of the afternoon the rector brought him up to speed on the last two centuries or so, in a conversation in which he did his best to hide his incredulity at the events which had transpired since he had read his copy of The Times this very morning.
“Is there someone I can call?” she asked after the third pot or so, glancing at her timepiece.
“I am fine, thank you,” he said, not quite taking her meaning but apparently answering in a satisfactory manner. “Merely a bit tired.” Which was true enough.
There are a great many practicalities involved in an 18th century born squire acclimatising himself to 21st century life — for, dear reader, Jack did not spend his days pining to get back to his natural time and place, as so often happens in these tales. Though he revisited the pyramid from time to time, often chatting with pilgrims, it was now simply a relic.
Suffice it to say, Jack not only survived, but thrived; his native cunning ensured that. Eventually he even attained a seat in Parliament, as a result of a by-election in which the incumbent had been forced to step down after a scandal involving an alpaca and an insincere declaration of species fluidity (something Jack generally frowned on, but was not unfamiliar with, a few of his old friends having been particularly debauched but otherwise fine company).
And so did Jack find himself, a Tory once more, the deciding vote on the great Brexit matter — wrapping his head around the ‘European Union’ alone had indeed been the 8th wonder of the world.
History records that Britain left the EU, as the Prime Minister insisted all along it should, on October 31st, 2019.
The economy immediately took a nose-dive, as many had predicted and was of course inevitable given the immense changes wrought by freedom from the continent. But there is hope, thanks to one Jack Fuller, who caught Boris Johnson’s eye and was quickly elevated to cabinet status, installed as the Minister for Follies (or fillies, as the tabloids often chortled, his romantic life having taken a turn for the better in these decidedly more libertine-friendly times).
For the builders of the age have been incentivised to build folly upon folly, already employing tens of thousands and on course to indirectly support much of the population. Jack was invited to so many ribbon cuttings he couldn’t attend them all during working hours.
One night he dreamt he was holding a cartoonishly large pair of scissors, about to open the latest, another pyramid, that form having enjoyed a renaissance. His old bike ‘Daisy’ was parked against the pyramid — sadly he rarely had time to ride, except in dreams. Just as he was about to snip the ribbon, it turned into a snake.
“Hey watch it!” the snake hissed, narrowly avoiding a ceremonial bisection. Then: “I recognise you. How’s tricks?”
This being a figment of his imagination, there seemed little point in evading the question. “I turned myself to face me, but I’ve never caught a glimpse,” Jack answered, promptly bewildering himself. After a moment he added, “Time may change me, but I can’t trace time.”
He hadn’t a clue why he said that, or exactly what it meant, but it sounded familiar.
“You know it’s all an illusion,” the snake winked. “But enjoy your folly.”
“Just how symbolic is this dream?” asked Jack. “What should I make of it?”
“Turn and face the strange,” said the snake. “That’s all I got for ya. I’ve got other timelines to tickle.” And with that, it made like an S and said “Sayonara!”
Jack woke up. Or did he? He forgot the dream, but the dream didn’t forget him. Which is as good a way as any to end this, being a folly and all.