English PEN is saddened to learn that Robert Lodge, one of our prize winning writers published in The Gates of Ytan, died in February, aged 26.
Robert was a runner up in the 2013 English PEN writing competition for his compelling short story ‘A letter for Mr Greene’, chosen by writer Mark Haddon from over 400 entries from 60 prisons.
We send our condolences to his family, and urge you to read below the published story from a talented young man.
A letter for Mr Greene, by Robert Lodge
Mr Greene hated the outside world and refused to venture any further into it than he had to. He had lived like this for years and had grown old and wizened and bitter. Even the little white dog who had once been his constant companion had died a year or so ago, plunging him deeper into sociopathic gloom.
The postman rarely approached his door these days so Mr Greene was surprised one day to find a green, hand-addressed envelope lying on his doormat, demanding his attention. He picked it up and gazed at the writing as if expecting the identity of the sender to emerge, but the scruffy scrawl revealed nothing. The postmark was local so he knew the letter had not travelled far.
He carried it into the lounge and settled into his khaki armchair. Gingerly, he tore back the flap, which gave little resistance and opened without tearing. For some reason Mr Greene felt his pulse quicken as he pulled out the single slip of paper secreted within.
It was a cutting from an unknown newspaper with that day’s date on it, despite it looking many years old. However, the most unusual thing about it was the photo. It was grainy and indistinct but Mr Greene had looked in enough mirrors to know it was of him.
“What in the name of…” he started, but then looked at the accompanying headline and was rendered speechless:
UNIDENTIFIED ELDERLY MAN
FOUND DEAD IN HOME
Unidentified? Mr Greene looked at the photo again and knew it must be him, it was impossible not to recognise his own face. What was the meaning of this? He began to read the article. It described the chance discovery of a man in his home with no indication of who he was or whether he had friends and family. As he read the paper it seemed to change, the photograph became more distinct and filled with colour, the face growing more vibrant and alive as if in defiance of the headline. The words swam before his eyes and he looked up to find the house now devoid of colour. It had never been a particularly colourful place but what hues there were had been transformed into various shades of grey. The previously black-and-white newspaper in his hand was now the only exception.
A sudden din from outside sent Mr Greene rushing to his door and out in to the greyscale world, where he was met with utter chaos. People were racing up and down the street, brandishing guns and knives, many of whom appeared wounded; cars seemed in an equal hurry, paying little attention to the safety of others. There were children wandering amidst this maelstrom, lost and neglected. It seemed to Greene like a gathering of all the world’s evil.
Out of this came a small white dog.
“Dexter!” Mr Greene cried, recognising the animal as his late pet.
However, before the two could be reunited, the whole scene froze, stopping Dexter mid-bound.
“Peter Greene,” a voice suddenly said as he stared dumbstruck at his beloved animal. It was a while before he realised he was being addressed as it had been a long time since he had been called by his first name. He began to look around for the source.
“Philip,” the voice repeated and he was shocked to realised it was coming from the newspaper.
He looked at it and saw his photo was now so alive it was moving. His mouth opened and closed in an effort to speech, but all that came out was a hoarse whisper.
“Philip,” the image in the paper said, “I would tell you not to be alarmed but I see that it’s too late.”
“What’s going on?” Greene asked, hardly believing he was addressing a newspaper.
“I am you, but an alternate you, transported here to deliver a warning. The world you see here is what exists inside your mind, a dangerous place full of terror and cruelty, as depicted in newspapers in black-and-white words of woe.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Don’t speak, let me finish. The heading you saw shows the fate you are currently heading towards. An inability to see past this vision will leave you to die alone. Dexter was the last truly colourful aspect of you existence and it died with him. Now I wonder if you remember what it means to be happy.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Me? It’s not up to me. This illusion will soon fade and you will be left once more with your thoughts. It is then a choice of whether to act on this warning or live without colour until your demise.”
Slowly it did fade. The road cleared and green, blue and red seeped gradually back. The newspaper blurred and became illegible, all colour gone save for a slight green tinge. Philip wondered whether it had been a vivid dream but remained convinced it wasn’t. He folded the paper and put it in his pocket. Then, without a second thought – black, white, green or otherwise – he walked down his garden path and into his colourful neighbourhood.
He did so with a huge smile on his face.