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A man, no camera, and a determination to take on the Challenge anyway…

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The tour was boring. Here were suits of armour, and tapestries of two-dimensional battles, and portrait after portrait of family members in a timeline of apparel, but all with the same hereditary large nose. Here was the room where Jane Austen stayed one weekend. Here was the room where Richard II fathered Richard III, or possibly where Henry IV Part I fathered Henry IV Part II, I wasn’t really listening. As the guide led the tour up a corridor, saying “and now we’ll see the room where Marie Antoinette ate cake” I sneaked off in the other direction. I opened a door at random and found myself in a long, narrow room. I couldn’t resist it.

“Hello!” I shouted.

There was silence.

“Hello!” I shouted again.

And again nothing happened. There was no answering chorus. I couldn’t understand it.

“Hello?” I said, slightly less confidently.

“Oh, shut up,” said a voice.

I looked around. There was no-one anywhere.

“Hello?” I said, a little fearfully this time.

“Do you know something?” said the voice, “you’d make a really great echo. Would you like to join?”

“Who is this?”

“I’m this room’s Echo,” said the voice.

“Then you’re supposed to repeat everything I say,” I said.

“And you’re supposed to be following the tour,” said the voice. “I wasn’t expecting anyone, so I was on a tea-break.”

“Seriously? Aren’t you supposed to work full-time, in case a garderobe or something falls over in here, and you have to echo the crashing noise?”

“What, like the whole tree falling in the forest thing? Believe me, if there isn’t anyone around to hear, we don’t bother our arse.”

“But that’s just wrong,” I said.

“But that’s just wrong,” he repeated, but in a whiny voice. “That wasn’t me echoing you, by the way, that was me mimicking you. To contemptuous effect.”

“Why?”

“Listen to yourself. Why would I bother echoing when there’s nobody around? It’s bad enough as it is, stuck here for the rest of eternity, repeating the same three or four things over and over.”

“Like what?”

“Well, like “hello”, for instance. Or worse still, having to repeat “echo”. Or worse still still, getting someone who thinks it’s really funny to sing “When I’m calling you, oo-oo-oo, oo-oo-oo.”

I listened. There was something missing.

“Aren’t you supposed to say everything several times, getting quieter each time?” I said.

“Nah,” he said. “The second voice is my echo, the third is his, and so on.”

“And is there -”

“A guy at the end who doesn’t have one? I don’t know, I’ve never thought about it. Life’s too short. Or not, in my case.”

I could hear footsteps outside the room, and could hear the guide saying “and in here we have the Long Room. It has the most tremendous echo, so when we get in I want you all to shout “Hello!”.”

The Echo sighed, filling the room with a deep sadness.

“Listen,” it said, “I’m sorry for slagging you earlier. It was actually great to have a proper conversation for once, instead of having to repeat everything parrot-like. At least parrots occasionally get to speak for themselves, saying “Polly wants a cracker” or deliberately using the word “bollocks” when the vicar calls around for tea. Thank you so much.”

“You’re welcome,” I said. “…welcome…elcome…um…mm,” said the echoes.

The door began to open, and I had a sudden idea.

“She sells sea-shells by the sea-shore!” I shouted.

The guide and her group were astonished to be met by a roiling wall of sibilance, like a hundred shaken Coke cans fizzing open, fading gradually to the sound of giant waves receding from a beach.

I smiled as I walked away, because deep inside the stretto of hissed esses I had heard the faint sound of chuckling.