It all started quietly, a long time ago. Back then, I was what I called an editorial "odd job man". You know, the sort of bread and butter guy who could just as easily write a 200-word piece about Thai food in the style of Britney Spears as sub a 35,000-word telephone system manual. I was working in the editorial department of a magazine publisher in West London who specialized in bringing out those glossy loyalty mags that you get sent if you'd bought a certain brand of car, or mobile phone. Essentially a marketing job - it paid well for the publishing industry, was unchallenging and kept me off the streets.
Well, one day, Greg, the guy in charge of their biggest-circulation publication, a supermarket in-house magazine - the kind you can pick up free at the till with your loyalty card - got me into a meeting room and asked me whether I could write a problem page for the magazine. Well, asked me isn't quite the right word. His exact words were: "mate, we're in the shit cos Lucy broke her leg last night and the client's wanting to see the copy for the new problem column tomorrow morning. You don't mind staying late and working on it do you. Cheers mate, if you need me I'll be on my mobile." Then he was off to watch the England game in the boozer. Bastard.
They'd invented the character already - a rather saucy looking young cartoon woman called "Trudi Tell". The feature bore the deathless title, (wait for it) "Tell Trudi..." Greg and the others had put together some rather limp questions along the lines of:
Dear Trudi, my boyfriend has been seeing a Greek girl he met on holiday. Should I leave him? Signed Harriet from Harrow"
That kind of thing. My mission, should I choose to accept it, was to come up with Trudi's answers. Actually, I had no choice, so I sat down with a notebook and set to work.
I had a good look at Trudi's cartoon, which had been done by a famous illustrator better known for having invented a comic book heroine who specialized in driving round the Aussie outback in a huge armoured vehicle and blowing the shit out of anything that moved. Let's just say that Trudi looked... feisty. She had short dark hair with pink highlights in it, a tight, stripey top and flared jeans. She had a pen clamped in her mouth like a cigar, glasses perched on top of her head, and a somewhat sarcastic (OK, very sarcastic) expression on her face. As I looked at the illustration, Trudi began to speak her mind in my head...
"Dear Harriet. Greek food is all very well when you're abroad, coming as it does with lashings of Retsina and limitless Aegean sunshine, but someone caught eating large quantities of tsatsiki once they've come home should always be treated with suspicion. If he won't leave the houmous on the side of the plate, then you should switch to another less greasy type of food. Think of your complexion! Out, damn spot!"
This was easy.
"Dear Trudi. My boyfriend spends more time with his mates on his PlayStation than with me. I'm at my wits' end. What should I do? Anna from Manchester."
"Anna. Are you sure his Station's all they're Playing with? Next time, peek into the den and see if his mates are clustered around his joystick all having a good pull. Remember, the sort of men who love to come together of an evening may make wonderful friends for a girl, but they aren't likely to push all the buttons on your joypad. Beware!"
Actually, Greg loved it, though he thought it far too racy to present the client. In the event, however, we had no choice, and the client found Trudi funny too. With a bit of toning down, my Trudi column became a hit in what was a successful store magazine.
That was four years ago, the time of Euro 96. Since then, the magazine has closed and I've moved on from job to job, writing all manner of everything from offers copy for DIY superstores, to websites for pet food manufacturers, to a rather good column (I even got commended by the Press Association in their annual gongs) for one of the lower circulation Sunday broadsheets (OK, The Independent on Sunday). Then a year ago, Greg, who'd moved onto a rather cushy job editing one of the glossy lads mags, gave me a call and asked me whether I wanted to resurrect Trudi for him. He'd bought the rights for the character for a nominal fee from our previous employer because he thought she would work really well as a very bitchy advice guru.
After allowing him to buy me lunch (it's a tough job being a struggling whore, I mean hack), I graciously agreed, so long as he took me onto the staff part time as "writer at large". Christ, those lad mag boys knew how to party. I spent the next few weeks almost permanently drunk. I remember a particularly enjoyable day in a photographer's studio shooting the model who was playing Trudi for the new column (clearance fees meant we couldn't use the cartoon any more). She was a rather attractive young Estonian glamour model called "Moose" or something. She had obvious talents and the proverbial "big things in front of her". I remember I spent the whole afternoon trying to convince "Moose" (or something) that as I was her "mind", so to speak, that we should perhaps come to a more intimate spiritual understanding between ourselves as mature adults. "Moose", who was the spit of the cartoon Trudi, right down to the rather sardonic twinkle in her lovely green eyes, smiled coyly up at me, then went back to pouting for the camera, shaking the pink highlights in her head and adjusting the doctor's white coat that did little to cover her nudity beneath, nor the aforementioned "big things". I never did get to continue our philosophical discussion.
So Trudi Mark II debuted in living colour in the July 1999 issue and I quickly began to look forward to writing this piece every month. The questions were real this time, emailed to Trudi's "personal" email address, which I collected on my Mac at home. Given the looser morals of this publication, I was able to be far lewder and baser this time round, and the column began to get a loyal readership because it was genuinely funny. Well, it made me and the editorial boys laugh tears and snort beer through our noses sometimes anyway.
Interesting thing was that Trudi almost became a real person within my head. I guess that it was natural given the amount of time that she'd inhabited my mind, but I truly felt that she sometimes took over when writing the column, sometimes coming over quite tender towards some unfortunate fella's predicament. No, I'm not like that, thank you. But strange. It was.
Then there were the fans. Attracted, no doubt by the admittedly ravishing picture of "Moose" (or something) that appeared at the head of the column, many unfortunates ended up mailing me frank declarations of their undying respect and admiration. Others told me that they'd go down on me any time, any place. Which was nice. I guess it was to be expected. Trudi was a classic "virgin-whore" with a dash of "evil-vampire-bitch" thrown in. Fuck, I was excited by the idea of her, and I bloody well invented her.
So there I was, in my basement flat in Kentish Town, 'working' on the November issue. I was sat on the wooden floor with my Powerbook, logged into the net and browsing some car sites. My cat Mitch was asleep by the radiator and I had just opened a rather nice bottle of Shiraz. All in all, things were looking good.
My Outlook pinged and I switched to it to check my mail. One was an email from Greg reminding me about a party tomorrow evening. The second was one to Trudi from someone who called himself "Crowe". I'd had a couple of these before - he was a classic "Trudi botherer". It amazed me that these men thought that they'd have any chance with the girl, even if she had been real.
I was about to hit "delete" but my eyes wandered down and I read it anyway.
From: "Crowe" (firstname.lastname@example.org) To: "Trudi Tell" (email@example.com) Subject: i know... dear trudi... i know you want me... i know you need my loving .... i know you will reply to my mail because i know where you live... xx crowe xx
OK. That was creepy.
For a moment I thought that "Crowe" might have located "Moose" (the mind boggles). Maybe I should try and warn her or something. To be honest though, I had long since stopped taking these crank mails seriously. I deleted Crowe's mail and went on with my work.
The next day, I got three more mails from the persistent "Crowe". Each purported to know where Trudi lived and that he was somehow tracking her.
At the October launch party that night in the Alphabet Bar on Beak Street, I told Greg about it, but he told me that "Moose" (or something) had moved to New York. I did point out to him that this "Crowe" could be in New York as well cos we had no way of telling. But by then we were several pints of Stella down and our conversation soon deteriorated into incoherent and somewhat vague mumblings about Spurs, George Graham and the failings of the 4-4-2 system.
Sometime in the small hours, I awoke with a dry, hideous tasting mouth. My landline was ringing. I dragged myself out of bed and fell on the floor, startling Mitch who yowled and sloped sulkily out of the bedroom. Fighting the desire to puke, I gulped down the water in a jug next to my bed then reached over to answer the phone.
"Hello," I mumbled.
There was no reply except for an even breathing and a distant, hollow ticking noise.
"Hello, who is this? Hello?"
With a click, the caller hung up.
When I woke up again much later, I tried 1471 but the number had been withheld.
From: "Crowe" (firstname.lastname@example.org) To: "Trudi Tell" (email@example.com) Subject: i know... dear trudi... i know where you live... i know you will become... mine... cu... soon... xx crowe xx
I pressed delete. I knew that there couldn't possibly be any connection between the phone call that morning and these emails, but I couldn't deny that they had started to get to me. I tried to get back to work but couldn't concentrate, so I put my coat on and left the house, picking up a birthday card I needed to post to my mum on the way out.
My hangover had gone but as I walked up Torriano Avenue, I felt tired and dry in the mouth. I walked down Leighton Road then cut up a few side streets till I came out at the high street. It was already dusk and only 5pm. The nights were drawing in fast now. I went to the Costcutter, blinking in the harsh fluorescent light and bought twenty Silk Cut and a big bottle of Volvic. Something about this morning was bothering me, but I couldn't place what it was.
I stepped out onto the street and walked back up to Leighton, taking the back way up to Lady Margaret Street. I put the cigarette out and reached into my pocket for my keys and cursed. I'd forgotten to post the card. I shrugged and went back in. It was almost pitch black outside now and it had got a lot colder suddenly.
I went inside, rubbing my hands together and turned the light on. "Mitch?" I called. I needed to feed him. I looked around but he wasn't to be found. Must be outside. I went to the kitchen and turned the heating on, shivering.
I went back to the living room and woke the Mac from sleep mode. I was about to carry on writing but a horrible compulsion seized me. I opened up remote access and connected to the net. While the modem was squealing about its business, I lit another cigarette and tried to recall the reason for my sense of unease about this morning. But nothing came.
With a sense of dread I clicked the "send and receive" button on Outlook. Three mails appeared in my Inbox. The third was from "Crowe".
From: "Crowe" (firstname.lastname@example.org) To: "Trudi Tell" (email@example.com) Subject: i know... i know you got my message this morning... xx crowe xx
Suddenly, my mobile bleeped. I jumped, and went to pick it up. Someone had just texted me. I read the message.
CHEK YR EMAIL. xxCxx
I went back to the Mac and checked the mail again. Another mail arrived.
From: "Crowe" (firstname.lastname@example.org) To: "Trudi Tell" (email@example.com) Subject: look... behind you. xx crowe xx
A voice said "HELLO TRUDI" behind me. I couldn't tell if it was a man or a woman, or even if it was human, because it was distorted and electronic, like it was coming through a vocoder. Strangely, I thought of the Cybermen from Doctor Who.
I slowly turned my head. Behind me was a figure, entirely dressed in black, with a black balaclava on its head. Through the eyeholes I could see glittering mad eyes and I suddenly remembered why I'd felt so uneasy this morning. I had awoken from a dream of being held down to see this face above me, a needle in the right hand, stabbing down.
Then I saw a strange gun in the figure's hand. The figure pulled the trigger and two wires shot out from the end and hit me on my chest. A feeling quite unlike anything I'd ever felt before filled me and I went rigid, totally unable to move.
Then I collapsed twitching from the electric shock. "Crowe" bounded forward like a monkey and pulled my trousers down, injecting me in my bottom. "Ak-" I said.
As I began to pass out, I remembered two things. I'd forgotten to post my mum's birthday card, and I hadn't fed Mitch his dinner.
I woke up after a dreamless sleep.
I wasn't feeling dizzy, not even a little nauseous. I felt absolutely fine. But I was so weak I couldn't move a muscle.
I was lying in a simple, white room. No windows and only one door to my right. The room was just big enough for the length of the single bed I was lying in and just wide enough to fit two more in, one on either side. To my left was a white ceramic washbasin with a hook for a towel and a small, round mirror above. I was covered in a light white cotton cover.
The room was lit by a couple of dim lights that gave the room a calm tranquil feel. That's it. I'm telling you this because I would be spending the next year in this room and I felt it only fair to give a full description of it.
I lay on the bed and speculated dully about what might have happened to me. After a while I nodded off.
I next awoke to see those eyes looking down at me. It's hard to describe those eyes in that balaclava hood. Glittering, almost tearful. Full of unfathomable emotion. Utterly alien.
I felt a stab in my arm and glanced down to see the hypodermic in the figure's hand and a clear liquid draining into my vein.
I nodded off again.
I began to welcome the figure's visits. The long intervals were so barren that I would exhaust myself waiting for him to come back. He came with food, which he would tenderly feed me, or more of the injections. Sometimes I'd wake and see him looking into me, and the strange vocoder voice trilling, "MY TRUDI" as he stroked my face with his leather gloved hand.
"Crowe" was kind to me and after a while I looked forward to the visits. The food. The injections. They became my life. My existence had simplified down to a straight line in this small, white room. A line that led only to my inevitable becoming.
I woke again to see those ravaged eyes staring down at my face and I realized that I must be lovely to this "Crowe" creature who had come into my house and hunted me down. Enslaved me. I found myself smiling up at him and I realized I could move. I reached up with my hand and noticed with a start how my arm had lost all the muscle that I remembered. Wasted away. I touched the balaclava and stroked it, smiling up at "Crowe".
It was impossible to tell how long "Crowe" had had me trapped in here, but as I tried to sit up, I could see that time had done its job. I was raggedy thin and as weak as a baby. I could barely move now and "Crowe" had to help me up. I gasped as he pulled the catheter from my limp penis, then I collapsed back on the bed. "Crowe" raised me up and I pointed weakly to the washbasin. The mirror.
Gently, he carried me over to the basin and let me wash myself and I looked at myself. "Crowe's" face appeared next to mine, stroking my hair, which had grown down my back. My hollow face, which was undeniably feminine, gaunt, drawn, but pretty. The little taut buds of my nascent breasts. My strange, hairless body and shriveled hairless genitals. "MY TRUDI". He said sadly.
As I fed myself up in the white room, "Crowe" let me have pretty clothes, and magazines and books to read. As my body filled out into new, womanly curves, I avidly read the fashion features and fantasized about wearing the gorgeous clothes that the models wore in their heady world of beautiful people, pop stars, movie starlets.
I began to mould myself into the shape of Trudi, and I began to realize that ever since that first day, the spirit of Trudi had taken me over and began pushing me towards these last moments. I began to feel a love for "Crowe" that I found hard to explain even to myself, seeing him as my liberator, my enabler, my catalyst. My soulmate. Oh my God.
Like a phoenix from the ashes, Trudi had emerged.
I was really proud of my breasts. I would sit and admire them for hours. They were all my own work, and that's why I felt good. They were not large - a size B cup at best, but they were perfect. I loved so many of the new feelings. Slipping on a lacy bra and feeling the tight support of the cups. Pulling a pair of opaque tights onto my shapely smooth legs and softly rubbing them together. That wonderful warm, moist caress of lipstick on my mouth. Feeling the draft up my short skirt and the curve of my arch on my high heels. Ohh.. So many lovely, sensuous feelings. No wonder I felt so hot all the time since I'd become Trudi.
I finished dressing and looked at myself in my new full-length mirror. I was Trudi. The hair wasn't right. Not quite, but otherwise, I'd made myself into the template. Not like "Moose" but like the cartoon that we'd started with, Greg and I. I had become a pouting cartoon temptress who would make men livid with anxiety and desire.
I heard the door open behind me I turned to watch as "Crowe" stepped in. "AHHHH" he sighed happily as he looked at me.
"I'm ready." I said as I stepped up to him. I was the same height as him in my heels. I felt beautiful. Confident. Never more ready.
"MY TRUDI." He said in his strange voice.
I nodded again. "I'm ready".
He nodded and bent down as I pulled off the balaclava. Greg was smiling under it as he pulled the voice changing device from his mouth.
"Trudi." He whispered.
I closed my eyes for a moment. I knew. I had known. I felt strange. Like my world was expanding suddenly. Becoming thin and airless. I should have been angry. But I couldn't be. I suddenly realised I loved him.
I opened my eyes. "You really did it, didn't you," I said to him, wrapping my slim arms around his taut waist. Greg put his strong, cool hands on my bottom and started stroking. "You were determined that Trudi was in here," I breathed, slitting my eyes in happiness, "weren't you?"
"So were you", he whispered. "You just had to be shown how." His hand had gone down below the short hem of my skirt and was fondling the inside of my thighs, a slow hand, you know where. I could hardly bear it and squirmed, giggling and biting my lower lip with the intensity of the sensation. Then suddenly we found ourselves looking straight into each other's eyes.
His eyes weren't mad at all. Just loving. Loving me. He brushed his lips on mine, then, BANG, we came together. The kiss was like a pin dropping into a vast, deep dark well. It lasted longer than my life in this white room.
I was Greg's girl now. I had been right from that night in 1996 when he'd planted the glamour on me and gone to watch the football. Just like a man.
Later that week, I saw the light for the first time in a year. It was now September 2001. I walked out of Greg's house in Little Venice and went up to a little salon on Warwick Avenue where he'd booked an appointment for me.
I wondered about Greg's life during this year. How he'd felt all this time, just going into work, knowing his butterfly was maturing in his cellar. He must have had to handle things when I'd "disappeared" too. So much left undone. My job. My flat. My mum and dad. Yet all seemingly meaningless now. I was imprinted on Greg. He had become my life.
He'd rescued Mitch though. I kissed him especially hard when he reintroduced me to my beloved kitty.
I entered the perfumed warmth of the salon. As the pretty blonde receptionist greeted me and made me a cup of tea, I realized this world of beauty and pampering was mine as well now. I felt warm and happy as I leafed through Vogue, legs crossed like a proper lady. There I had the final parts of Trudi completed. The hair cut into a short, spiky assymetric bob, the pink highlights put in and my nails manicured into perfect half inch rounded rectangles with the polish to match my new highlights.
A spray of Eau D'Issey and then I got a cab to Knightsbridge and maxed my new credit card on beautiful, beautiful clothes before enjoying a light lunch on the Fifth Floor of Harvey Nicks. I was going to make Greg into the happiest man in the world as his new trophy bird for him to show off on his arm at the most gorgeous openings, the coolest bars and the most exclusive restaurants.
For a while, they wouldn't be able to get us off the celebrity pages and of course I would be the new girl on all the covers. Elle or Vogue would probably adopt me as the new "It" girl for a while and we would be London's hottest couple. Him, Greg Black, the former editor of UpFront, now CEO of The hot new Black Mags empire. Me, Trudi Tell, mysterious and gorgeous leggy beauty with the trademark pink strands in my hair. I would top the polls for most beautiful woman in Britain in both the men's and women's mags and would soon be modeling for Gucci in Milan and attend parties where I'd outdrink, outsnort and outbitch Kate, Amber, Naomi and all the others. Then there would be the stop-start music career followed by a critically acclaimed appearance in a low budget independent movie written by Charlie Kaufman. Then we'd go quiet after a while before I emerged again with a book (I'm still a great writer!) and a film project for Greg's new production company on the go. Marlon Brando would come out of retirement and ask to make a movie with me. I'd write and direct and it would be an unexpected critical success but we'd be snubbed at the Oscars. Puff Daddy would try and get off with me at a party in Monaco. But he'd fail.
When I arrived home, Greg was waiting for me as I glid in on my new black Gucci heels, on bare legs that stre-e-e-tched miles up to an outrageously short ripped denim Chloe skirt that barely covered my bottom and an asymmetric pink slashed top from Versace Jeans Couture.
My hair and face were probably better than he'd ever seen them and I could tell from the big shit-eating grin on his face that he was ever so pleased with himself.
He picked up a champagne flute from the table and filled it with Cristal, walking over and handing it to me as he slipped a firm hand round my waist. We kissed, sucking passionately on each other's entwined tongues before pulling apart.
"It's going to be one of those nights, isn't it, my darling Trudi," he said.
I sipped my champagne, enjoying myself as it cut a cold line down to the pit of my stomach. I thought back over the events that had brought me to this day, this moment, here and now.
I smiled, placing one hand down there and squeezing, gently. "Darling, it's going to be one of those lives."
This short story was originally written in 2001. I was obviously reading a lot of Fictionmania and Michael Marshall Smith back then...
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