New Short Story – Sunrise Over Thiers – by Benjamin Hewitt

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Benjamin Hewitt

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It’s my third day volunteering in France, and nobody knows I’m stoned. I have a good, functional buzz. On each of the four screens in front of me is a different view of the Rue de Lyon in Thiers. Every hour of every day a volunteer sits in this stained fabric chair and watches the CCTV. Watches, makes notes, watches again for any sign of unusual movement or untidy emotion. My family are about 710 miles away in Thiers’ official ‘twin’, Bridgnorth. Both places are steep and have ‘hightown’ and a ‘lowtown’.

There are no other volunteers on shift, just the Supervisor in his tiny office at the back of this room, smoking a cigarette and doing paperwork. I’m here on Erasmus studying in Lyon, and am required to get a French job. I don’t understand who would volunteer to do this otherwise. For me, I get credits sitting on my ass in short shifts, in a town where I can smoke walking down the street beforehand.

The first shift was mind-numbing, but after a joint it’s alright. I’ve been getting a bit paranoid as of late, so i have to be doing something relaxing after i smoke. This is good, though I didn’t know there’d be a supervisor watching me.

Monitor 1, an uphill fork in the road, is quiet. There’s a mural of a musician with a large signature design on it. It looks like a photograph but could be a very good painting. I consider that a photograph is not a complete realisation of a scene, but more like a painting with light. I write all of this down in the notebook I have been given, leaning slightly forward to really emphasise to the Supervisor that I am making notes as instructed.

On monitor 2 a guy in a reflective jacket is opening some kind of red box fixed to a wall. Another man in the same jacket is nearby, fiddling with some equipment inside a van that says ‘Saur 24 hour’ on the side. This is the most suspicious looking thing I have seen so far. I make lots of notes.

When I look at Monitor 3 it’s as if my perception is engulfed by it. It is as if my viewing the outside world via the HD screen is enough in a postmodern sense for me to be there – as long as two of my senses are interacting, i am ‘there’. The shutters on the windows are beautiful – wooden and slightly lopsided.

A deaf-blind person only uses three senses. If physical matter and space matters less in this stage of meta-reality, then – I turn the page in my notebook loudly, to show that I have finished a page of notes already – then…

I lose my trail of thought and look back up. I’m wavering in and out of stoned, and find myself thinking too much about whether the Supervisor knows. I concentrate on positive thoughts -someday, i think, i will retire to France, and all day i will smoke weed and watch CCTV.

On monitor 4 a man in a sagging dark grey suit opens his shiny white car and steps inside. Despite his formality he wears a pair of white-soled fashionable trainers. Maybe he is the CEO of a company, and can get away with it, though his car model wouldn’t suggest it.

The colours of the buildings are incredible. In some parts the plaster has cracked to reveal the brick underneath, in others it looks like it has been drybrushed with a huge paintbrush.

I notice that each of the streets are populated with more cars than people, driving slowly back and forth or parked in the bays at the sides of the road. They each seem to have their own personalities and facial shapes. This one is red in the face. The way the windscreen is almost level with its headlights makes it seem swollen. It has little puffed up white eyes, set in smooth red skin.

These two cars have tiny eyes and small blocky bodies, like muscly children. They are parked opposite one another, one white and one blue-white, like half-brothers. I draw their positions in the notebook, looking over my shoulder to check the Supervisor isn’t watching.

I write ‘Saur 24 hour’, the company name from monitor 2, in the notebook, and stare at it for a while. On the screen the guy with the reflective jacket is still at the red box, tugging at a wire inside and shaking his head. He stands up and looks over to his colleague, and seems to shout something.

A van rolls slowly up the hill toward Hightown in monitor 5, a big bulky overweight character with a faded transfer on its side that might be an old tattoo on a lumbering old white man.

The ‘Saur 24 hour’ man’s colleague comes over and together they look intently into the box. I make a note of their every movement. I lean forward in my chair again, and consider that, technically speaking, there is not a 0% chance that they could be planting a bomb.

I tell myself it’s just the weed, but once this sudden uncontrolled thought is in my head, I cannot get it out. In my position the only person standing in the way of a successful terrorist attack is me. I tap my pen on the notebook and try to calm down. They are just workers from the electric board.

The Supervisor’s voice startles me. “Waterr?” he says. I turn my head and take it from him. “How is it going?”

“I am unsure about these two men,” I say, surprised by the sound of my own voice. It comes out strangely and i hope that i sound sober. “It seems very suspicious.”

The Supervisor leans toward the monitor then pulls back and laughs. “Yes! I wonder what they are doing,” he says, then walks away.

I am left, annoyed at the dismissal, unconvinced and anxious, unable to tear my eyes away from the two men and the red box. Just then one of them looks up and down the street. I know i have to do something, maybe let the Police Nationale know. This is a bad buzz. It’s not a good start to my retirement plan.

Either the Supervisor doesn’t take his job seriously, or he knows something I don’t. I look to the left so that he is in my peripheral vision, and i reckon i can see him looking at me. Maybe he knows I know. My chest hurts and i’m sweating. Chill out. Just a bad buzz.

I rub my face with my hands. My mouth is dry so I take a sip of the water. One of the red box men turns around and scratches his head, and for a whole second i see his eyes meet the camera.

black tree


Photo by Tomek Dzido

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