Observers – Gareth D Jones

I was rather surprised when my Observer first appeared. I was watching TV – a reality show ironically – when he flickered into existence in the corner of the lounge. Like an old fluorescent light with a faulty starter, his image stuttered dimly, then sprang into full colour. I say colour, but he was pretty much grey and beige all over. Thinning grey hair, beige form-fitting top, grey trousers. He held a grey electronic notebook of some kind, though whatever angle I looked from I couldn’t see anything on the screen. I was surprised, but not freaked out. Thousands of Observers had been appearing for several months. I imagine the first few caused a lot of screaming and panicking. 

Mine just stood there, Observing. I got up from the couch and approached slowly. The man blinked occasionally, but otherwise didn’t react. I waved my hand through the space where he stood, just as I’d seen them do on the news. Nothing. He was there, but not in person. I circled him a few times, sat back down. Ignored him. He looked down at his pad occasionally and touched the screen. Otherwise, he just Observed me. 

I went to bed much later. In the morning he was standing in the corner of my bedroom. I don’t know if he’d been there all night.

After that he was there almost all the time I was awake. He would appear in various rooms of my house, though I never saw him walk anywhere. He would stand in the corner of the office. I work for a security company in a huge office block of a couple of thousand people. A dozen or more of them had Observers. Sometimes there would be three or four of them in view, but they didn’t acknowledge each other. I called mine Bert. I don’t know why – it seemed appropriate. Lots of people gave their Observers names. Many ignored them. Some had nervous breakdowns. Zephryn works in a neighbouring office, a pleasant girl who always smells of lavender. She had an Observer with pale skin and long black hair whom she called Morticia. We decided Bert and Morticia were probably married. Neither of them reacted to that announcement. Other Observers we decided were their brothers and sisters, cousins, drinking companions or arch-enemies. I spent quite a bit of time with Zephryn, deciding which football teams they supported, who had a crush on whom, which of them was the conscientious, overtime-working glory seeker and who was probably on a final written warning for being a slacker. I’d try to get Bert involved, ask him to pass me a pen. He would just stand there and I’d have to get it myself.

It was a way to cope with the oppressiveness, a way to ignore the more serious questions. Were they broadcasting from the same place as each other or, as some theorised, from the same time? Why was I chosen? Why was anyone chosen? What did they do with the information?

In the office we talked about conspiracy theories that the government was spying on its own people. There were protests in many cities and we watched from our windows as an unruly crowd passed along the street below, waving placards and shouting slogans, a scattering of Observers lining the route.  In some lands, the Observers were worshipped as – well I don’t know what. It depended on local beliefs. 

On the way to and from work my Observer would appear in the railway carriage, standing among the crowds. Some shied away from him; some ignored him and stood overlapping his space. He never got on or off the train with me; he would just re-appear somewhere else. Once or twice I tried changing carriage. A few seconds after I settled into a new seat he would re-appear, unperturbed. The conductor tried to charge me for an extra ticket. I ignored him.

Who watches the watchers? I’ve always liked that phrase. It implies an infinite regression, an answer without end.  A government observer turned up at our office one day. They don’t call themselves observers, to avoid confusion. He toured the building, making notes on all of our Observers, taking photos. He didn’t make any notes about the names or relationships we’d assigned them. The Observers ignored him.

When they all disappeared, all at the same time on the same day, I was as puzzled as everyone else. Relieved too, at first. But two things worried me. The first was something vocalised by huge sections of the population. Had we been weighed in the balance and found wanting? Was humankind not worth Observing any more? Were they aware of an impending disaster, or were they going to cause a disaster? Nobody has good answers to any of those questions and after a while they were written off as paranoia.

My second worry is more personal. I’m lonely. I live alone and I’d got used to Bert’s company. Admittedly he wasn’t a great conversationalist, but he was always there for me to talk to. I could chatter away about my thoughts and fears and he listened patiently to everything I said. I assume. He watched TV with me, stood guard over my bed at night. I was always happy on my own before, but now there’s something missing. I can’t get used to the isolation. I liked watching him.

Did I mention I work in a security firm? I’m pretty good at hacking into CCTV and security cameras. I’ve got myself some expensive binoculars too, with night vision capability. 

I’m observing Zephryn now. I hope she doesn’t mind.

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