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The Fan Who Wasn't There

William Shaw is a writer from Sheffield, currently living in the US. His writing has appeared in Star*Line, Strange Horizons, and Doctor Who Magazine. You can find his blog at williamshawwriter.wordpress.com and his Twitter @Will_S_7

Before I tell you about Miles, I need to tell you about Granite and Gold.
It's a TV show from the 1970s, back when ITV was still just a bunch of regional stations and the number of national channels didn't reach as high as four. Produced by Wessex Television in one of many, many failed attempts to kill off Doctor Who, it was a science fiction detective show about two paranormal investigators, Granite and Gold.
He was a black-haired, no-nonsense guy in a suit. She was a blindingly blonde lady in a formal dress. They were, as the title music blared, "Pan-Dimensional Investigators with a Special Interest in Planet Earth!" Every week something weird would be going on, typically somewhere old and affordably creepy, like a decaying Victorian mansion or an abandoned school. Granite and Gold would materialize from another dimension and find the source of the chaos before defeating it in an oblique yet satisfying manner. Imagine Scooby Doo if it were rewritten by J.B. Priestley, and you've more or less got the sense of it.
There was a remake in 2006 with an anonymous pretty boy and one of the girls from All Saints, but everyone knows it's not as good. The original is so... spare. So atmospheric. So unlike anything else on television, before or since. It's no wonder it's developed such a cult following, of which I consider myself a proud acolyte. And it's no wonder I found so many friends in that following, including Miles.
And while it probably doesn't explain it, it does give context to the fact that, when Miles told me he was a pan-dimensional investigator with a special interest in planet Earth, part of me believed him.
It wasn't like I'd never met a role-player. Plenty of people have accounts called @TheRealAgentGranite, or @YourMummyAgentGold, and deliver all their posts in character, including DMs stating they really are pan-dimensional beings, not some puny mono-dimensional human. There's even a few who like to play the show's villains, although given that most of the villains are silent, predatory voids beyond human comprehension, their conversation tends to be pretty limited.
But Miles wasn't like that. Up to now, he'd been completely normal. We'd met a couple of years back in the comments on a Twitter poll for best original series story, and we'd even collaborated on fics a couple of times. (You might know our biggest one, Pandora's Nightmares; it got like 5,000 hits back in the day). Conversation with him was the usual fandom stuff: which episodes we were rewatching, what we thought of the latest revival rumors, how much we hated this one blogger who insisted the show was an attempt to overthrow capitalism. But now he was coming out with weird lines that weren't even quotes from the show. I guess that made me more willing to believe. Derivatives were our stock-in-trade, but this was something else. Something original.
MILES: Trans-Platonic, hostile equations cannot be used in populated dimensions. I have been granted access to this reality. My mission: to subdue all anomalies.
ME: Oh yeah? What anomalies will you be subduing today?
MILES: That is classified information.
Of course it was.
MILES: But there is something you can do for me. What can you tell me about the human conurbation of "London"?
ME: Well, I live here.
MILES: Excellent! Then you can help me in gathering intelligence. We must move quickly! Time is running short!
So I typed the fateful words which make or break any fandom relationship:
ME: Let's meet up IRL.
The final episode of Granite and Gold aired on the second of May 1979. It has no title. None of the episodes originally had titles, and when the producers were asked why, they said they hadn't found them necessary. Fans have taken to calling that episode The End of the Line. In it, Granite and Gold find themselves in a rural train station in the middle of the night, sometime in the early twentieth century. Neither of them can remember how they got there, and when they try to leave they find themselves blocked by invisible barriers.
Pacing across the platform, the ticket office, and the tiny waiting room, they are haunted by the future of the station. They meet a steam engine driver worried about diesel engines taking his job; an elderly flapper having an affair with a younger man; a thuggish youth implied to be a Nazi sympathizer. The show was always atmospheric, but this time even the main characters seem to feel the chill. It's in the way they look at each other, the way the actors deliver their halting, awkward questions. It's like they know their time is up.
Eventually they find their way back onto the platform, where a massive steam engine is waiting to set off. They look at each other with a sense of resignation. The camera pans up as they climb aboard, and follows the train into the dark of the night. Until you realize, it's not that the night is dark. In fact, there is no night. The train is floating, quite unsupported, in the middle of a black void, driving inexorably onwards into nothingness. And as it gains momentum, the camera stops following, the train moving further and further into the black. And when, minutes later, the train is out of sight, the credits finally roll. Silent. No theme music, no continuity announcement, nothing.
It's like the show has been snuffed out.
It was the nineteenth of March 2020, and I was waiting for Miles at King's Cross Station. We'd agreed to meet up after work and go for a drink. I had promised to "share intel on the local culture and social rituals" which might have meant explaining the human concept of a pub to someone not of this Earth, or might have just meant having a drink with an internet friend. It was a little weird, but anything was better than going home and arguing with my flatmate, or waiting for my parents to call with a new way in which I'd failed them, or skimming AO3 for new Granite & Gold fics, being disappointed, and having a wank instead. So what if Miles was a little strange? I was just happy to be out. Or I would have been, under normal circumstances.
The station was so empty. It was barely half past six, we should have still been knees-deep in rush hour traffic. But there was barely a trickle of people making their way through the automatic ticket barriers, all giving each other a wide berth. A few were even wearing what looked like surgical masks. I started to wonder if I ought to wear one myself. But what was the point? The station was so empty.
I checked my phone again. The quiet of the shiny silver hall was starting to freak me out. We had agreed to meet at six o'clock, and the illuminated screen read 18:41. No texts or DMs from Miles, either. This wasn't even rude, I could understand rude, this was just... nothing. Like Miles really had gone back to another dimension.
The buzz of my phone at 18:53 felt so loud I almost cried out. Fumbling it out of my pocket, the screen said:
MILES: Take the Northern line to Morden via Bank.
I unlocked my phone and thumbed a reply:
ME: How do you know where I live?
MILES: Take the Northern line to Morden via Bank.
ME: Aren't you coming to the pub?
MILES: Take the Northern line to Morden via Bank.
This was getting seriously weird, but if I wanted to get home I had to do as he said, anyway.
I was the only one on the platform. If you're not from London that probably doesn't sound like much, but trust me: that never happens, and certainly not at seven o'clock on a weekday night.
The train hauled itself into the station, and the doors seemed to take forever to open. I couldn't help a nervous, backwards glance, but there was nobody there. I was the only one on the platform.
I collapsed into the sweaty, uncomfortable seat, and realized I was the only one in the carriage, too. I felt a sudden urge to change carriages, to sit somewhere else, but too late: the doors hissed shut and the train wheezed out of the station.
The darkness of the London Underground rattled by, and for some reason I just couldn't stand to look at it. I pulled my phone out of my pocket at the exact moment it started ringing, the buzz cutting through the thick, warm air. The screen showed Miles's caller ID, a picture of him in a sharp suit, and I was so off-balance that it took me a second to realize: you can't call someone when they're underground.
I stared at the screen, unable to move. Outside, the blackness deepened.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, December 12th, 2022

Author Comments

Fandom can be a wonderful place, where you meet all sorts of interesting people. But sometimes the people you meet aren't who they say they are. This story was inspired by that experience, as well as by wanting to grapple with the trauma of the pandemic in fiction. For me, the two will always be linked.

- William Shaw
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