Breathe

About The Author

Christopher Fowler lives and works in central London.

After writing several humour books, including How To Impersonate Famous People, he shifted into ‘Dark Urban’ writing. His first short story anthology City Jitters featured interlinked tales of urban malevolence. He has since had numerous further volumes of short stories published.

His story The Master Builder became a movie starring Tippi Hedren and Richard Dean Anderson. Many other short stories have been filmed as short films, and almost all of his novels are currently under option as features for a wide variety of actors and directors.

The film version of Left Hand Drive won Best British Short Film of 1993. Wageslaves won the 1998 BFS Best Short Story Of The Year. On Edge, was a theatrically released short starring Doug ‘Pinhead’ Bradley and Charley Boorman. Other stories have been published in Time Out, The Big Issue, the Independent On Sunday and the Mail On Sunday.

Christopher reviews for the Independent on Sunday, and produces articles for publications including The Third Alternative, Dazed & Confused, Pure and Big Magazine. Recent short stories have appeared in The Time Out Book Of London Short Stories 2, The New English Library Book Of Internet Stories, Dark Terrors 5 & 6, Best New Horror, London Noir, Neon Lit., A Book Of Two Halves, Vengeance Is, Love In Vein 2, Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror, Destination Unknown, 100 Fiendish Little Frightmares, The Time Out Book Of New York Stories and many others.

1. WELCOME TO SYMAXCORP

Welcome to the bad world of big business. Companies are like icebergs, mostly hidden from view. Or they’re like hives, where everyone is given a specific job and a limited amount of knowledge. Almost any analogy works, because commerce is amorphous and elusive. If the events of this story have already happened, you won’t be told about them. You’ll be suspicious from the outset, of course. You know how these things tend to shape up. The evil bosses, the downtrodden workers, yadda, yadda.

But this particular company started life as a place that would benefit everyone. It was all planned out by a decent man, albeit a man with little understanding of people and how they work.

It began as an architectural model, a tower of smooth, white-painted balsa and plastic, surrounded by neat round trees. At its base strolled tiny plastic couples. The nearby river was a sheet of shiny blue perspex. The effect was one of space and light, a monument to human endeavour.

The reality is a glittering black jewel box, a saturnine, crystalline spear called the SymaxCorp building. As impersonal as only a modern building can be. The walkways around its rain-bleached base now resemble electronic circuitry, paths snaking between terminals, sparking trade into life. No couples stroll here by the scudding brown river. Workers come, do the job and get the hell out. How can you be comfortable in a building where the windows don’t open? Where the walls reflect back your own lonely image?

Did the designers and architects believe their own lies? Did they ever think, as they peered into the model, that this glass prison would offer freedom and happiness?

It is nearly midnight, and everyone has gone home now. Out of hours, the area has as much life as the surface of the moon.

The entire business district is built in a crescent around the bend in the river. It is less than five years old, but some of the trees have been planted fully grown to provide instant ambience. There are no homes or shops, or old men walking dogs. There is only the fierce crackle of commerce between the hours of nine