Archive | February, 2017

THE BLASTED DESERT Chapter Twenty

28 Feb

20. THE CHASE

“Does that mean…” stammered Imageous, “Does that mean that my mother’s dead before I’ve had chance to say goodbye, it’s been nice to know you and thanks for all the cabbage stew?”

“It looks like it,” confirmed Bertie, “and I’m sorry, old chum. But she was getting on a bit, you know, and I dared say she could have led a healthier life, not spending so much of it on her back, I mean…”

“Stop talking like that!” snapped Enid, “it’s unkind and not worthy of you and, incidentally, not true. She was a consummate professional and always took precautions. And, what’s more, we don’t know that she’s actually dead, do we? That paramedic said he was going to thump her chest, which means massage her heart, and they wouldn’t have poked so many pretty plastic pipes down the throat of a corpse, would they?”

“So she might not be dead?” asked Imageous, a tear forming in the corner of one eye. “Then I suppose I’d better follow her. Let me go, Enid, and I think I can catch them up if I try to run.”

“You’ve never run in your life,” scoffed Bertie, “you can barely walk,” he added.

“I need my mummy!” Imageous almost shouted, “there are things that need to be said, like what had I done to be punished by living a life dedicated to cabbage stew?”

“It wasn’t that bad,” grunted Bertie, “if you sprinkled enough pepper on it.”

“But I must try…” wept Imageous.

“Don’t be so ignorantly daft!” snapped Bertie’s Mother. “You’ll not stand a chance once it gets its siren going and blue lights flashing fir to outshine the sun! Get aboard my helicopter and we’ll find that ambulance and follow it in the air! I love a bit of low-level navigation. Now come on and step on it or we’ll be too late!”

They did as she told for two reasons. Firstly, they could see the logic of following the ambulance even if it’s only passenger was a lifeless corpse and secondly her voice had the kind of authority that demanded instant obedience, or else…

“This is going to be a tight fit,” hissed Enid as she coaxed the helicopter into life, “and one puff of wind from the wrong direction could send us crashing into the lounge bar of the pub ready to order our pints and one puff the other way and we’ll mash half the fairground into shreds!”

“Just be careful,” muttered Alphonse, “I’m too young to die and there are loads of surgical procedures I’ve got to do before the grim reaper claims me. And I’ve always dreamed of being the first surgeon to operate on his own prostate!”

“There’s nothing wrong with it that a bit of lust won’t cure,” Enid told him.

“If you say so,” he replied, grumpily.

“Then keep still all of you,” commanded Enid, and with a glorious majesty she lifted the helicopter slowly into the air, its blades whistling mere feet away from the pub wall and one of them even whipped Thomas the Greek’s greasy hat from his head and launched it across the fairground and into a nearby field where it landed on the head of an inquisitive rabbit. To passers by fortunate enough to be out of range of its downdraught the sight might well have been almost glorious, but to those closer than that it was terrifying.

Once she had steered the vehicle high enough she made for the road down which the ambulance was vanishing at breakneck speed, its siren wailing and its flashing blue lights, as she had suggested, outshining the sun, which chose that moment to slip behind a cloud.

“Gotya!” she whooped, and with her undercarriage dangerously close to terra firma she soon caught up with her target.

“This is it!” she laughed, “I knew we could do it!”

“Aren’t we dangerously low?” suggested Bertie, pale when he saw the taller street lamps flashing past his window and the odd telegraph pole threatening to get tangled with the helicopter’s wheels.

“We’re okay!” smiled Enid, “now be calm and quiet while I concentrate on what we’ve got to do.”

Meanwhile, in the ambulance in front of them there was a war being waged between an old woman whose heart thought it was time to pack up and the paramedic who wasn’t driving.

“Can’t you go any faster?” he shouted towards the front of the vehicle.

“I can try,” came the laconic reply, and an expert might have detected a minuscule increase in its speed. But it was roaring along flat out anyway and the rest of the traffic was having to lurch to one side or the other to allow it to pass.

“This is fun,” grinned the driver, “yahoo!”

“Now for a bit of chest pummelling!” announced the caring paramedic, and he proceeded to batter away at his patient in a way that might best be described as skilful until she coughed, spluttered, spat at him and opened her eyes.

“I used to charge highly for this kind of fun,” she told him weakly, “and if you’re unlucky I might make you pay! What’s that blasted noise?”

“Let me look,” replied the paramedic, surprised at the sudden consciousness of a patient he’d been pretty sure was dead.

He opened the back door of the vehicle and peeped out. Almost blocking his view and not so many feet above them was a roaring helicopter, its downdraught causing all manner of untidy litter, soft-drink cans, crisp packets and dog turds carelessly cast away in small plastic bags to hurtle into the air and scatter everywhere, almost blotting out what remained of the daylight.

“Shut that door!” shouted patient in the kind of voice that suggested she shouldn’t really be a patient after all. “And come and tap my chest again if you want. I quite enjoyed that. It reminded me of the good old days when Bishop Archibold reckoned it was the best thing he ever did, and he was a right one, was the Bishop.”

“Who’s Bishop Archibold?” asked a shocked paramedic.

“Oh, he was a naughty boy when he wasn’t wearing his mitre!” grinned the patient, actually struggling to sit up. “He had a weird belief that it was his hat that made him a bishop, and without it he could do whatever he liked, especially when it came to nooky with a professional lady! I was his favourite whore, you know, and I quite enjoyed his company because he always paid in silver. You know, goblets, candle-sticks, platters, even the odd cup and saucer, and it was nothing cheap like electro-plated rubbish. Solid silver, that was his currency.”

“An archbishop?” gasped the paramedic.

“Quite so. Though I suppose my favourite was the newspaper magnate because he liked it rough!” giggled the elderly woman. “And I was always willing to oblige,” she added sweetly. “Aren’t we at that hospital yet?”

© Peter Rogerson 13.02.17

THE BLASTED DESERT Chapter Nineteen

27 Feb

19. JUST TOO LATE?

Before Imageous and his three companions arrive at Swanspottle and get on with their lives, let me provide the reader with a little history of the place. A few miles from the larger town of Brumpton and tucked tidily in the country, Swanspottle consists almost entirely of a pub, a church and a single row of cottages together with open countryside. It along that single row of coattages that one Griselda Entwhistle lives, but her stories are told elsewhere.

The pub, The Crown and Anchor is run by Thomas the Greek (who has never been Greek), a landlord who cares for the health of his best customers by diluting his draught beer in order to a) make it less toxic and b) increase his profits. Whether he achieves a) is uncertain, but he certainly manages to do b). It has also been noted that his standards of hygiene are, to be generous, filthy.

The pub has a large car-park with room for more cars than are ever likely to call at the place, and in order to further enhance his profit margin Thomas the Greek is perfectly happy to hire most of it out to all comers as long as they can afford his charges.

Which all goes to illustrate that when he’d let a travelling fairground hire it there was precious little room for customers to park and even less for Enid and her helicopter to find a cosy spot to land.

“There’s a spot. I think I can squeeze in. Just about.” she murmured, looking down as carefully as she could whilst Alphonse massaged her knee and as high up her thigh as propriety allowed. “Best be careful, though, there’s an ambulance just round the corner and I don’t think it’s there to rescue anyone scalped by my rotor-blades! So let’s squeeze in!”

“And I can squeeze in just here,” he perved, grinning in a most unmedical way.

“Now don’t forget you’re a doctor!” she reproved, “and let me concentrate or we’ll all end up as sausage meat.”

Enid eased the helicopter down towards a corner of the fairground. The down-draft from its blades created havoc on the Throw a Dart and Win a Teddy stall, and the toddler’s train was derailed on a tight corner. But downwards she eased her great metal bird until it had settled onto tarmac with only a few feet separating it from the Crown and Anchor wall and even less from the Ghost Train.

Thomas the Greek appeared in the doorway., his hands on his waist and rage on his face. He didn’t like the noise and the way the descending helicopter had sent waves of air-born dust though the door and into his already dusty lounge bar and he didn’t like the way that potential customers had been halted on their way to the inside of his pub out of a mixture of curiosity and fear and had consequently stayed on the outside, staring.

“What are you doing putting that thing there?” he bellowed, and Enid climbed out of the pilot seat, exposing far too much of her delicious legs and a patch of glimmering white silk as she did so. I doubt she did that deliberately, but bearing in mind her long history as a fallen woman it’s highly probable that she did. Either way, Thomas the Greek needed to use a greasy towel, the one he used for drying drinking glasses, to cover his embarrassment, and that barely proved sufficient when he remembered he’d left his flies undone.

“What a charming little pub,” enthused Enid.

“I don’t like it,” almost stammered Imageous as he put his second foot onto terra firma and breathed a sigh of relief.

“I’ll have a pint,” declared Bertie, who had almost recovered from his years as a novice at the old Monastery, where alcohol was unknown, as were all stimulants with the exception of prayer.

“Not too quick, my boy,” snarled Alphonse, “we’ve come here for a purpose and when that’s over and done with we’ll all have a hearty drink before Enid pilots us back home.”

“I think I can see something that might interest Imageous,” said Enid, “Look over there: at that tempting looking little stall with its mountain of fluffy toys as prizes all waiting to be won!”

“They’re fluffy ducks,” muttered the thirsty Bernie.

“And what does the sign say?” asked Enid, “surely that rings a great big bell inside your head?”

Imageous tried to focus his eyes, but unknown to him he was a little long-sighted and hadn’t seen anything in the distance properly since his teens. He’d grown up with the handicap and because he’d been cloistered in an unholy building with virtually no access to the outside world (with the exception of its rather large cabbage patch, where he was obliged to toil in summer and winter alike) he’d not really been greatly handicapped, though it may partly explain his earlier misunderstanding of helicopters.

“It says HOOK A DESERT DUCK” read Alphonse, who had twenty/twenty vision on account of his expensive spectacles and an intimate knowledge of his optician and some of her delightful ways.

“And I know who runs the hook a duck stall in this fair,” declared Bertie’s Mother, pushing her ample chest forwards. “ I think I told you, Imageous, didn’t I?”

“My mother?” asked Imageous, nervously.

“The very same! And before we go and greet her I’d better warn you. She’s not your average fairground operative because she’s a very wealthy woman and doesn’t need a penny for her labours. She does it all for fun.”

“That’s daft, if you ask me,” put in Bertie, “I mean, standing out here in all weathers come rain or shine when she doesn’t have to.

“You’ll find out.” Enid’s eyes were twinkling. “It’s years since I saw her but I hear she’s hardly changed even though she does have an elderly gentleman as a son…”

“I never thought this moment would come…” sighed Imageous “To meet mummy for the first time, and at my age too!”

“Don’t be too hasty!” almost shouted Alphonse, grabbing Imageous by one arm and pulling him back. “Look!”

And the son of the mother stared towards the hook a duck stall as two paramedics, purposeful and almost running as if to catch the dead, and carrying a stretcher between them, pushed their way through the thong towards that very stall.

“Quick!” one shouted, “the old lady’s flat-lining! Her croaky old heart’s stopped it’s pounding! She’s an ex-stall-holder, may her God bless her!”

“Let’s het her and pound some life back into her!” shouted his colleague, “I love that bit, pounding chests!”

And the little group of four watched as an obviously very old and possibly very dead woman was lain, as carefully as if she’d been alive and kicking, onto the stretcher, and carried slowly and with a certain majesty off, towards an ambulance.

“Oh, blast it!” croaked Enid sadly.

TO BE CONTINUED…

© Peter Rogerson 12.02.17

THE BLASTED DESERT Chapter Eighteen

26 Feb

18.THE SKIRT

It was with a titanic struggle that Imageous stopped his body from shutting down entirely, because if he’d done that he would probably still be lying on the helicopter pad deader than any dodo you ever saw, and you can take it from me that they’re all dead. But he did have that titanic struggle and all he did was twitch and jerk as his mind tried to come to terms with what, to him, was a totally alien environment. All the bits and pieces of recent days had been added in his head to the sight of a modern helicopter, and he had passed out rather than make a sensible attempt at understanding everything.

Enid’s face softened. She knew a thing or two about the male sex and chief amongst them was the fact that they were nowhere as strong as the female half of the population when it came to adapting to the really unusual, and even though there wasn’t anything really unusual about her helicopter (yes, it was hers, she could have afforded a fleet of them from her savings accrued after years of high-end prostitution), but she was equally aware that to Imageous just about everything was weird.

To go back a few years: she had actually been to the Monastery when she’d taken Bertie to enrol there as a child novice, and she had seen and been horrified by the almost vacuous lives lived by its inmates. Indeed, she had noted that some of the Brothers were little more than dribbling shells devoid of anything you’d call real life that must have departed in a wave of monotony and boredom years earlier, when they were still young. She had witnessed the intonations of absolute drivel they had to chant, words that had been repeated with such diabolical repetition that the Monks believed every nuance lock, stock and mindless barrel. She had instantly hated the place.

But it did some good, or rather had done some good in the past. After all, its dedication was to the forgiveness of fallen women and although it made her smirk when she thought of the Monastery’s interpretation of the term “fallen” (she had never fallen anywhere except out of bed once, years ago and on her own, and was well on her way to accruing her first million by doing the one thing that nature had made sure she was addicted to whilst at the same time offering an army of wealthy but lost mostly male souls a legitimate outlet for their innermost needs). Indeed, in her considered opinion she was the least fallen person she’d ever met and certainly the least abused.

But some members of her profession seemed to need forgiveness because they believed some gobbledegook about what they were doing being a sin and evil and unworthy of a decent girl, and so they had turned to the Monastery for that forgiveness whilst paying for the service with their flesh if they had no cash funds. Everyone was happy except the Monks who had subsequently to go and mortify themselves as they transferred the forgiveness they had offered from themselves to the big god of Pain.

It might be wondered at this stage why she had ever taken her son there, Bertie, because it was clear that he would have no life at all, but she rationalised that he had to go somewhere and he wouldn’t stay there for ever, she’d see to that when enough money rolled in. In the end he had seemed to enjoy it, particularly after she had arranged for him to make regular but forbidden excursions from long-forgotten entrances out into the town and eventually even to her own home (the cottage in the grounds of which even now she was standing and examining the shivering wreckage that was Imageous)

So she looked at Imageous and shook her head.

It was a desert, wasn’t it?” she said quietly, and she stood close enough to him for him to get a good look up her micro-skirt if he opened his eyes. She had learned that the male sex is so easily diverted by glimpses up such garments. Indeed, she had even earned some of her vast wealth solely from permitting glimpses of her often divine underwear. She’d looked upon it as easy money even though the flimsy garments had cost the Earth.

It’s never hurt anyone yet it’s done a lot of good over the years, she told herself with a twinkle in her eyes. And I suppose she was right. No harm had ever come from such a display of fragrant silk or even polyester.

When he heard her voice Imageous opened his eyes, and kept them open. What he saw convinced him that he had finally reached the afterlife in Eternity, and he hoped and prayed that he was in Hell. Surely Heaven forbade such delights as he was confronted with? Surely only the great Necromancer could provide such visual marvels?

It’s always been one,” he whispered, meaning the Monastery and a desert. “We all thought that. Am I in Hell?”

Her tinkling laugh was a reassurance that he was in no such place because such delectation as lay within its every joyous note would surely be alien to both Heaven and Hell, the former being dedicated to the highly stylised chanting of meaningless platitudes and subsequent mortification and the latter to more dubious musical sounds, like pop melodies with their underlying suggestion of sin and everything evil.

Why am I … lying down?” he asked.

You fell, Brother,” she said quietly, and she wriggled her delicious hips in such a way that everything within his vision wiggled a bit, and by that I mean that all he could see within his vision was up her skirt. It made him feel a great deal better. It even made him feel like standing up, so he did. His “funny turn” was over, and he could actually plant one foot in front of the other again.

Let me help you,” she whispered, and she took him by one hand and guided him up the steps and into the helicopter, a task she contrived to perform with absolutely no difficulty nor the need for any further exposure of her still delectable body, though the winsome nudge in his ribs from one of her ample breasts was hardly accidental.

And that was it. He was safely aboard the machine as were his companions, and Enid had arranged a flying helmet fetchingly on her head so that a great deal of her fragrant hair was still very much in evidence.

Up we go,” she said, and she winked extravagantly at Imageous who, believe it or not, winked back.

And to Swanspottle to see what we shall see!” she giggled.

With a great deal of noise and vibration the helicopter rose into the air, and Imageous, who being first aboard was sitting next to a window, couldn’t help looking out. And what he saw made him gasp in amazement. There is, after all, a great difference between knowing that you’re going to do something and witnessing the fact that you’re actually doing it.

And Imageous was actually flying high in the summer sky.

TO BE CONTINUED…

© Peter Rogerson 11.02.17

THE BLASTED DESERT Chapter Seventeen

25 Feb

17. THE LAST STRAW

Imageous had heard the word “fair” before, when he had been offered (and had gratefully taken) a lift in a fairground lorry. That had been going to a fair and he was sure the driver had mentioned Swanspottle. It wasn’t the sort of word you could easily forget.

He didn’t know it, of course, but Swanspottle was a rather special village in that it was the residence of a rather special and by then very old woman, one Griselda Entwhistle (of which more has been written elsewhere, so she need not be mentioned any further here unless she crops up as an accessory now that I’m approaching the climax of my tale.)

He also knew what a helicopter might be, but here it is necessary to consider scale and the diminishing affects of distance. He’d seen the odd helicopter through his cell window back in the Monastery, his attention logically drawn by the sounds they make, often loud and always a far from pleasing raucous racket. And what he had seen had been small and moving purposefully across the sky, like toys, and he found himself struggling to work out how the four of them were going to fit into something so diminutive unless magic was involved. It would surely be the only way, and magic was funny stuff.

He believed in magic. His whole life had been dependant on being guided and governed by an invisible force that would ultimately judge him and cast him to either Heaven or Hell when his time came, and it has been noted already that his personal preference was Hell.

The existence of this all-powerful magic had been so hammered into his head that to see his raison d’etre in any other light would have been unthinkable, though where he saw his particular sect’s attitude to ladies of the night and the forgiveness of any sins they might be committing as part of their calling is hard to say. It was a contradiction he cared not to think about because nobody else did. But this invisible force was magic, pure and simple, with no roots in reality, yet he would never see it that way because he was incapable of making any judgement that was at odds with what had been shoe-horned into his head since his infancy.

So he imagined there would be shrinkage of his and the others’ bulk, some divine reduction of their flesh until they fit into the tiny flying machine he had glimpsed from time to time through his cell window. He thought it might prove to be uncomfortable, but assured himself that the powers in charge made sure the shrinkage would be neither painful nor permanent.

Breakfast over and the dirty dishes put into a machine the very purpose of which was beyond Imageous’ understanding, someone said it was time they were on their way, and they all stood up, Imageous rather hesitantly because his mind was little more than a fog of confusion in which the dish-washer played its part.

Enid led the way once she had made sure that he and Bertie were sensibly dressed for the adventure she hoped would lie ahead. Bertie had an overcoat but Imageous had never owned anything of the kind, not one in his whole seventy-year existence, though in truth the inside of the Monastery in winter would have been made more comfortable by the ownership of something thick and snugly.

Fortunately Alphonse was able to provide his with a furry and spare winter coat, and he felt the luxury to be an absurdity in summer. But Enid insisted, the reason she gave having something to do with the temperature inside clouds, which further served to confuse him. So wear it he did. Enid terrified him, largely because of the very shortness of her skirt together with the length of leg it revealed and the low-cut blouse she was wearing which also opened a window into mysteries beyond his understanding, and he would never dare to question anything she suggested.

We’re ready, then,” she told them when she was happy with the way they were dressed,, and they followed her out of the cottage, waiting while she locked the door and attended to the security alarm. She was, after all, a wealthy woman and wealth can attract the seedier sort of individual who prefers to take rather than earn and she counted a burglar alwarm as an essential piece of kit.

Then she led the way across her capacious back lawn, neatly manicured and mowed, and down a grassed pathway that curled out of sight so they couldn’t see what lay ahead until they got there. But when they finished the curl it was perfectly clear that an area had been marked as a helicopter landing target and sitting neatly on it like a metal god was a helicopter.

But it wasn’t a toy, not a tiny piece of frippery that roared unpleasantly across the sky, but a vehicle easily large enough to hold the four of them. It was big, and big things like that could never fly in the skies like the midget ones did. Imageous was sure of that much if he was sure of little else.

The very sight of it was enough for him. Life had become worse than an intolerable strain and he remembered that he was seventy-three (which was ancient by Monastery standards) and consequently considered himself far from adaptable to the unknown … and this helicopter was most assuredly the unknown.

When his eyes fell on it he stood stubbornly stock still, and stared.

It’s just like a car that flies,” hissed Bertie when he saw how transfixed his senior Brother had become.

But that didn’t help Imageous much because he’d never been in a car. An ambulance, yes, and the fairground lorry, but never a car. So the assurance from Bertie really fell onto deaf ears.

Enid and Alphonse watched as he fell heavily and with dreadful slow-motion onto his knees, weeping, and then lay flat on the grass on his stomach, shaking like a fig-leaf. His tears flowed for no particular reason as far as Enid could tell, but Imageous knew exactly why he was crying. It had to do with an accumulation of experiences that were way beyond his compass, and this helicopter and the threat that it represented was one step too far.

I can’t! I can’t! I can’t” he wept, physically vibrating and his face as pale as a dead chicken.

But it’s fun, Brother,” said Bertie, “you’ll love it!”

But the only thing Imageous knew about love was the hollow feeling he had got hears ago when the Father Superior had beaten love and faith and beauty into him when he himself had been a novice, and the pain he felt while his elementary lesson healed. And he knew that if he was to love the adventure that it seemed lay ahead it would hurt like wounds always hurt, and he knew all about pain.

He wasn’t going to go anywhere near that helicopter, not now and not ever! It was, in fact, the last straw.

TO BE CONTINUED…

© Peter Rogerson 10.02.17

THE BLASTED DESERT Chapter Sixteen

24 Feb

16. CHOCKS AWAY

But I don’t know any desert!” wailed Imageous, close to tears despite his advanced age. Life had become so confusing he could barely understand anything any more, not that he’d ever had a truly firm grasp on the things happening around him.

Don’t you worry about that,” soothed Bertie’s Mother. “I’ll get changed when breakfast’s over and think about taking you. That’s all right with you, Alphonse, isn’t it?”

That it is, if you think you can do it, old gal!” chortled Alphonse, his long chin wispy beard fluttering with the enthusiasm of his speech.

I can do it as you well know,” she said, rather severely, thought Imageous. “Now come on and eat your eggs before they go cold!”

After a while Imageous’s curiosity got the better of him and he looked Bertie’s Mother straight in the face which, as you will probably imagine, took a great deal of courage and a prayer that his underwear would hold strong.

Where is the desert, and what is it, Enid? He asked, rather timorously, but that was the first time he’d addressed the retired prostitute by name and his heart cringed as he uttered it. What if she disapproved of him daring to give voice to her given name? Indeed, what if she squashed him with a disapproving sneer and carried on munching her bacon?

Or if she was truly angered by his insolence, might she not spit her hot tea at him?

But she merely smiled at him, a radiant, pure-as-the-driven-snow sort of smile, one loaded with understanding and sweetness, one that made his heart beat all the quicker.

A desert, dear boy, is a desolate area on Earth where very little can grow on account of there being little else but sand and no rainfall. They’re not very hospitable places and not the sort of environment where a person might choose to live for long without adequate supplies being guaranteed on a regular basis, and even then you can take it from me life would be wretched! And the Blasted Desert is worse than any other, for it is Blasted. Let me tell you how.”

Please, Mother,” put in Bertie.

Hush, sweet one,” said Enid somewhat severely, and Bertie looked crestfallen at the admonition.

Let me continue,” she said, and smiled suddenly so warmly at Imageous that he thought his underwear might actually burst, which might be more than embarrassing, so he tried thinking of the Father Superior, who had never stirred him beyond total boredom.

There is an island in the south seas that was green and pleasant when the world was quieter and more peaceful place in the years after it seemed that fascism had been beaten at the cost of many, many lives. The sadness is, such a philosophy is on the rise again, probably because greedy men don’t have enough compassion in their hearts. My friends, it is not a very fair world that we inhabit, for the very people who would condemn women like myself because we earn a crust lying on our backs and smiling at our clients believe that it’s only right and proper to wage war and dream of mass deaths. Indeed, they wage war almost continuously somewhere on the planet, and it’s never the warmongers who suffer but the young men, and these days young women, they send into battle!”

She sighed, and looked sad, and a tear oozed out of the corner of her right eye.

You mentioned a green and pleasant island, Mother,” coaxed Bertie.

So I did. And it was green and pleasant, with all manner of creatures living full lives upon it until some scientists thought it might be an excellent place for them to start testing their nuclear arsenal. There’s nothing that kind of man likes better than a huge bang, and the politicians of all shades, from deep blue to darkest red, like better than the thought of ultimate destruction. They love it, and will find any excuse to unleash it in war. And these days it’s getting easier because the truth is no longer the truth. These days the truth is what the political classes want it to be and if they say black is white then there are enough ordinary people prepared to believe them that black actually becomes white.”

What’s that got to do with the green and pleasant island, Mother?”

They blasted it. The scientists testing their noisy bang devices, tearing the island and everything on it to pieces totally destroyed it, leaving nothing behind but a desert. A blasted desert. And that is where, Imageous, your gigantic black bird says you must go. To the blasted desert all alone in the southern seas.”

But … but won’t it be radioactive?” asked Bertie. “Won’t anyone who goes there have their DNA battered by the stuff in the air and the stuff on the ground? By the sand itself?”

Of course,” smiled Enid, “which is why you must go there, Imageous. Either that, or go back whence you came, to the Monastery.”

Which is burnt to the ground,” sighed Bertie. “And that must surely make it almost as bad as your exploded island?”

The second time the bird came it said the Desert was within…” muttered Imageous, frowning. “That doesn’t sound as if it’s on an island anywhere, does it?”

Alphonse laughed fairly heartily, and coughed. Enid frowned at him and he winked back at her. “It meant that inside you was the grey wasteland of life in a religious institution,” he explained. “At least, that’s how I work it out after learning a thing or two about the place where you lived … I’ll bet your life there was grey. Even Bertie said his was, and he was here almost as often as he was there. Made quite a getaway every week didn’t you, old fellow?”

The bird was telling you to leave it because if you stayed you’d be burnt to ashes along with the bricks, mortar and timbers of the place,” put in Bertie. “That had nothing to do with atom bomb test sites or stuff like that.”

We’d best start our journey right away!” announced Enid, her minute dress riding up to her waist as she stood up and Imageous’ underwear having a second battle against his hormones.

How, Mother?” asked Bertie.

There’s only one way: we’ll fly!” laughed Enid. “I have a helicopter parked out the back and a pilot’s licence that says I can fly it. And as good fortune would have it, it’s all fuelled up and ready to go!”

You can’t fly all the way to the southern ocean in a helicopter!” protested Alphonse.

Of course not, silly! We’re only going a few miles. We’re going to call on the good Brother Imageous’s mother in Swanspottle where the fair had been set up and I happen to know she’s waiting for us! That’s where we’ll find another sort of blasted desert!”

TO BE CONTINUED

© Peter Rogerson 09.02.17

THE BLASTED DESERT Chapter fifteen

23 Feb

15. RICHES BEYOND THE DREAMS OF AVARICE

Alphonse Mulberry, lover of Bertie’s mother Enid (usually known as Mother) and eminent surgeon at Brumpton General Hospital, besides sporting unusual facial hair, was dressed in his pyjamas, a heart-warming floral design with pink shorts, even though he was sitting with a plate filled with fried breakfast in front of him. The casual reader might think that this author has a preoccupation with pink things, but he must report things the way they were and Alphonse’s pyjama shorts were pink. A really pretty shade of pink, to be precise.

“Did anyone hear that noise in the night?” he asked. “It sounded like a cross between a sparrowhawk on heat and an enraged bull.”

“I thought it was a dream until I found black feathers on the floor of your room when I popped in to shut the window,” frowned Mother. She was almost (but certainly not quite) dressed in a Burberry-patterned miniskirt (more like a pelmet than a real garment) and a diminutive blouse that contrived to reveal both upper and lower curves of her adequate bosom. “It’s a bit cold this time of the morning to have windows too open,” she added, fluttering her eyelashes at Imageous.

If you wore more clothes it wouldn’t seem so cool, he thought, perfectly accurately, though he did find her appearance ridiculously appealing despite his advanced years and vows of celibacy.

“It was a huge black bird with a message,” said Bertie, wincing when one of his mother’s nipples popped out of hiding. “At least, Brother Imageous said it was a message though it looked like a blank sheet of paper to me.”

“It was a message,” acknowledged Imageous, uncomfortably adjusting his trousers.

“But I couldn’t see it,” growled Bertie, not his usual cheerful self that morning, “not a jot, not a punctuation mark, not even a colon!”

“What did it say?” asked Alphonse. “I have a certain expertise in written messages from our feathered friends,” he added. “When I was a lad I got plenty of little billet-doux from nightingales and thrushes,” he added, his eyes suddenly closed as if he was transporting himself back to happier times when rapture had been the order of the day.

“What’s a billet-doux?” asked Imageous, aware of his sad lack of education, having been taught everything he knew at the Monastery since he was three and thus having had his vocabulary somewhat limited by the monks’ lack of belief in anything but an invisible deity and their own minimal comfort.

“A billet-doux’s a love-letter,” enthused Mother (or Enid, as Imageous had been told he should call her, though he hadn’t dared to address her directly yet). “I used to get plenty of billet-doux during my working years! There was a time when I was young and pretty…”

You are pretty still, thought Imageous.

“…when men by the score would send me little messages, describing my flesh and what it did to them in the most glowing terms. Oh, those were the days! I could make a hundred pounds an hour and work a twelve hour day on my own terms whenever I liked, and I liked it most days… it was worth it for the glowing reports in those billet-doux, though I was always a bit of a slave to sensation!”

You must have been quite a naughty woman, thought Imageous, and “naughty woman…” he said aloud.

She looked at him, and her eyes were twinkling.

“I can’t expect a refugee from that Monastery to understand,” she said, “though years ago, when it was fulfilling its purpose, most of the Monks would have understood better than even me! But yes, I guess some thought I was a naughty woman and the truth is I didn’t feel at all naughty. I just felt comfortable.”

“What do you mean, fulfilling its purpose?” asked Bertie.

“It was a refuge for so-called fallen women,” sighed Mother. “Oh mercy me! I’ve heard tails that would make any whore blush! There were some monks there, the naughty boys, they liked their comforts all right, but it didn’t help the ladies earn their crust – though they did get loads of divine forgiveness! If they wanted it, that is. Your Mother used to go,” she said, looking directly at Imageous. “She always liked the idea of being forgiven, though I’m sure she didn’t really think she needed it.”

“M-my mother?” stammered Imageous, whose own mother had left him with the monks when he had been three in order for her to get on with prostituting herself in comfort and without a snotty-nosed child in tow. He imagined she had never been as successful as Bertie’s Mother had apparently been, which made him proud because he had a feeling there might be something a little tacky about extreme wealth being garnered by a woman who spent most of her life on her back.

“Oh, yes, your mother,” sighed Enid. “She was a one, she was! She believed in two things – earning a crust and being forgiven for any sins that earning a crust might involve her in committing! But her name became a bye-word for fascinating experimentation, did Mrs Crotchet, or Fanny to her friends, of which she lad legions! She worked until she could have bought the bank she deposited her many crusts in and still had money to spare, and then she retired to join a travelling fair, where she still works on the hook-a-duck game. And she still looks quite stunning!”

“She’s … wealthy?” asked Imageous, his stammer becoming almost threatening to the transfer of sense and meaning.

“She’s got millions,” confirmed Bertie’s Mother. “She was a credit to the profession. She had a client list even I would have envied … headmasters of most of the elite public schools and their upper-crust religious teachers, lawyers and judges – so many judges she would never have been convicted of anything if she’d been arraigned at court, half a dozen senior policemen (which meant she was never actually accused of anything) and a few members of the Royal Family. You can see, dear Imageous, how you might have got in the way? She’s almost ninety now but still on the hook-a-duck stall at the fair she chose to work for, and she hasn/t lost her looks!”

“She’s still alive?” really stammered Imageous.

Enid nodded. “That she is, and proud as punch of you! But tell me about the black feathers I found on your bedroom floor…?”

“It was a confounded gigantic bird,” sighed Bertie.

“I’ve s-seen it be-before,” put in Imageous. “I-it leaves m-me a m-message every now and th-then.”

“A message?” asked Alphonse, sitting up keenly until his pink pyjama shorts became so stretched that they split with a loud farting sound.

Imageous nodded, not happy to commit himself to further stammering.

“What did it say?” asked Alphonse, so eagerly his bits and pieces popped out of the tear in his shorts and Enid’s eyes opened extra wide.

“I remember it word for word,” said Imageous, “and it was in capital letters. It said THE DESERT IS IN FRONT OR BEHIND, YOU CHOOSE.”

“Then you must go!” gabbled Alphonse, “and I’ll tell you now, young man! You must go to the Desert where you’ll find the answer to all your questions!”

…TO BE CONTINUED

© Peter Rogerson 08.02.17

THE BLASTED DESERT Chapter Fourteen

22 Feb

14. THE RETURN OF THE BEAST

That first day with Enid and Alphonse in the delightful thatched cottage was one of unrelenting and arduous confusion to Imageous, who completely failed to come to terms with most aspects of twenty-first century technology, though he did have a working knowledge of the most primitive electric lights. The Monastery’d had a rudimentary electricity supply which provided illumination at the flick of a switch if not much else. But as for coloured television and, nightmare of all nightmares, the Internet and its near-instant response to its users, they were so alien that he refused to think about them.

Why, he asked himself, can’t the Father Superior communicate like that if it’s so good? And why not our Father, the one we worship…?

They were questions to which he could find no answers, though at the back of his mind he wondered if the Monastery had remained fixed in a past that had gone away from most people’s lives.

After a day of confusion after confusion (he was introduced to curry, for goodness’ sake), darkness began to fall. Thus his first night in the cottage arrived and there came the moment Imageous was fearing, when he had to go the pink bedroom and share a bed with Bertie. He knew Bertie of old and how the younger man seemed to have strange and unpleasant desires in the night. They’d shared a bed (illegally, he supposed) at the monastery more than once and he’d had quite a job discouraging the novitiate from what he saw as unnecessary physical contact.

But this time he seemed to be safe from unwanted attention. He didn’t know it, but the huge number of skin problems, the rancid pus and wildlife still emerging whenever he breathed, and the deep scabs that he suffered from, disfigurements that had been nurtured unseen over the years under his burlap cloak amid the accumulated dust and diseases of the ages had discouraged his bed companion. Indeed, Bertie insisted that they place two spare pillows end-to-end between them to avoid unnecessary nocturnal contact.

So came the first night Imageous had ever spent under thatch, not that he could see that roofing material because there was a plasterboard ceiling in the way. But he could hear it all right. There were tiny noises from it, scurryings and tapping and every so often a squeak, and they sent shivers down Imageous’ spine as he contemplated what they might be. He had visions of monstrous creatures, maybe spiders as big as squirrels or even ponies, and the whole idea scared him. He didn’t actually like tiny spiders the size of rice grains let alone anything bigger and equipped with eight hairy legs.

Don’t worry, you’re safe in here,” Bertie told him. “There’s nothing that can harm you here.”

And he merely grunted a reply. The day had been just too much for him to do any more than that. He let his fears grow inside him and forced his eyes shut. He’d had to force sleep to come before, in the monastery after the Father Superior had been particularly threatening, and he had somehow come up with an internal method involving counting ogres.

And somehow sleep came. Somehow the sounds that had kept him on edge seemed to withdraw into the blackness of night, and he passed almost peacefully into sleep, though once asleep he knew that certain dreams would come..

But this time he wasn’t aslee for long because he was awoken by an ear-splitting squawk that if it had been a colour would have been crimson red. Bertie next to him heard it as well and sat bolt upright, pulling on a light switch (which he understood, though as it was hanging on cord Imageous didn’t) in order to see what on Earth had disturbed their sleep.

It was the huge hook-billed black bird and it had one large eye fixed malevolently on Imageous.

What in the name of everything…” gasped Bertie. “What horrible demon is this?”

Oh. It’s you. What do you want this time,” Imageous managed to force out when he saw what had made the noise. Maybe it was because he’d met the bird before and had a shrewd idea how to get rid of it that gave him the strength to sound irritable, or maybe it was the one thing he had that Bertie didn’t … knowledge, and knowledge is sometimes strength.

You haven’t done it,” said the bird in its beautifully modulated voice, sounding every bit as middle-class as Doctor Alphonse, though thankfully it didn’t have a single wisp of unnatural facial hair.

Done what?” growled Imageous, reluctant to sound anything but aggrieved, what with the pressures of the day still bouncing around in his head like an uncontrollable football and now this wretched bird which must be real if Bertie could see it too. He supposed that last point might be encouraging in that it probably meant he wasn’t seeing things that weren’t there.

You haven’t gone to the place on the paper, you silly little man,” grumbled the bird, almost dropping its elegant verbal posturing. “You were told to do it, and you haven’t. Instead you’re here, and my Master is most annoyed.”

What are you talking to?” asked Bertie. “A bird?”

It’s following me,” complained Imageous.

I follow nobody!” spat out the feathered creature, switching from one eye to the other. “I come from the Master, and that’s all there is to it!”

Imageous climbed wearily out of bed and staggered painfully to the window-sill where the bird was crouching, half in and half out of the window.

No, not again!” it said, almost squawking.

But Imageous had had quite enough for one day. “You’ve asked for this,” he grated, and with two less than powerful hands he grabbed hold of the bird by its well-feathered neck, and squeezed it as if squeezing necks might be an event in the next Olympic games and he was getting in some much-needed practice.

And the huge black bird dissolved into a cloud of multicoloured light and dissipated into the air until there was no more sign of it. But before it finally vanished a piece of paper drifted from where its hooked beak had been, and fell to the floor at Imageous’ feet.

What on Earth was that?” demanded Bertie.

I don’t know. But it’s been plaguing me, and I’m fed up with it,” growled Imageous, for once not sounding like the compliant elderly monk but an irritable old man who didn’t want to be talking to huge black birds.

He picked up the folded paper the bird had dropped and looked at it, frowning.

What do you make of this?” he asked Bertie, and passed it to him.

Bertie took it and examined it minutely.

It’s blank,” he said, “so I make nothing of it.”

It’s got words on it!” exclaimed Imageous, snatching it back. “Look: it says THE DESERT IS IN FRONT OR BEHIND, YOU CHOOSE.”

What desert?” asked Bertie.

Imageous sighed. “The blasted desert, and I’m supposed to be going there,” he said quietly, “and I don’t know where it is or why I’ve got to go there. I really don’t, and it scares me.”

TO BE CONTINUED…

©Peter Rogerson, 07.02.17