1. BLACK BIRD, BYE-BYE

4 Feb

This is a kind of novella that I’m in the act of writing and posting on-line. Chapter one covers … what you’d expect chapter one of anything to cover! More will be submitted if it gets attention.

When the visitor came it shocked Brother Imageous Crotchet more than anything had shocked him since last Tuesday when the cheese he’d had for supper developed a green glow to it, and had made him vomit and emit noxious diarrhoea for two days and two nights.
He was expecting some kind of visitor, of course. Hadn’t he worshipped his God for so long that he knew he’d earned a mighty reward? And he was pretty sure the visitor was that reward. It just had to be.
Let’s put Imageous into context. He’d joined the order seventy years earlier, at the age of three. The truth was rather simpler than to say merely that he’d joined, but that he’d been joined by a prostitute mother who wanted to get rid of the kid because he was, to put it plainly, an inconvenience when it came to her trade. The older (mostly now deceased) brothers had taken him in because they quite simply were either of the prostitute-loving persuasion or the humanitarian persuasion, and both groups welcomed the child into their midst for totally different reasons.
It was never recorded which group he preferred, though on attaining his majority and becoming a brother-proper with a nice black cloak and mitred head-dress, he seemed to favour prostitution above most Earthly things, even cheese.
Indeed, Imageous was heard to question the condemnation of such people as the Ladies of the Night (many of whom were regularly seen to lurk within spitting distance of the Monastery where he lived and sometimes even within its walls). He was heard to praise their devotion to duty. He orated at great length about the very fragrance of them, which unknown to him was mostly out of an aerosol can. He even suggested, from the sacred pulpit, that the highest achievement of womankind might be in the form of prostitution, when she served the menfolk with generosity and devotion and natural juices. It was a favourite subject of his and he was so convincing that the popularity of the local ladies became almost epidemic, and he was awarded a grant in order to investigate the purposes of femininity and breasts more thoroughly. This had become the best part of his life’s work, which he attended to with enthusiastic aplomb.
So, to return to the beginning of this treatise, he was both expecting some kind of visitor and yet at the same time visibly shocked by its arrival in the form of a huge black bird with a fiendishly threatening hooked beak. The bird might have sent shivers of an almost toxic nature through his body, but when it spoke it all-but finished him off, because it spoke his own language with a moderately refined accent.
“I have come, Brother Imageous,” it said, cocking its head on one side so that it could examine him with but the single eye.
To Brother Imageous, being examined by one eye was considerably more terrifying than being surveyed by two. It went back to his boyhood when he’d been disciplined by a one-eyed monk with a switch.
“Who are you, Master?” stammered Imageous, fearful that he had finally reached the ending of his days at the age of seventy-three and was on the cusp of being transported to the Hell he wanted to go to when he died. He had, incidentally, decided long ago that Heaven would never do for him. There were, he had been informed on sundry occasions by men sufficiently elevated to surely know, no prostitutes in Heaven and if he was going to spend the eternity of his afterlife anywhere he would surely need the presence of an array of such ladies to help him pass the time. They lightened the darkest days and did almost unbelievable things to jaded flesh.
And to him it only stood to sense. A man who spent his entire life (barring the first three years, which he had totally forgotten) in a Monastery must surely have earned the right to the warmth and affection offered for the most modest of sums by the fair sex when he was dead. Surely there must be some advantages to being dead?
But the huge black bird (that is, a bird of gigantic proportions that was black rather than an oversized blackbird, which is a particular species and never quite as huge as Imageous’s visitor) shook its head.
“I’m me, and that’s all you need to know,” it said in the nicest of middle-class tones. “I have come from my Master with a message just for you.”
“A message for me?” asked Imageous with a hint of excitement hurrying his words.
“Who else would it be for, nincompoop,” said the bird severely, “there’s nobody else here, is there, unless you have secreted a little lady of the night under your robes?”
“I have done no such thing!” exclaimed the good Brother, both horrified and excited by the suggestion which, after all, on the odd even fairly recent night might well have been true. But this night was far from odd if you exclude the arrival of a huge black bird that could talk.
“The message,” drawled the bird, “it’s from my Master…”
“Who, might I enquire, is your Master?” asked Imageous.
“The Lord of all things. Who else?” There was what amounted to a yawn in the bird’s voice, and it transferred its unwavering gaze at the nonplussed brother to its other eye.
Imageous chose to ignore the fact that he was no closer to knowing who the bird meant by His Master, and reached out and grabbed the bird by its black-feathered neck in a move that was swifter than lighting despite his advanced age, twisting enough to ensure the bird would take what he had to say seriously, and hoping he wasn’t twisting too severely. He hated any suggestion of cruelty whilst at the same time being not quite sure of his own strength
“Be more precise about the personage of your Master and tell me, what is the message for me?” he hissed into where he guessed the bird’s left ear might be. “I have had enough games for one night and need my rest. Speak, bird!”
The huge black bird tried like mad to explain that it couldn’t hope to say anything with its neck in so tight a grip and would he please let go, but all it contrived to do was emit a few raspy squawks followed by resignation.
Complete resignation.
There and then, whilst the Brother still gripping its neck, it died, but before it breathed its last avian breath it spat a piece of moist paper at Imageous.
“GO ACROSS THE DESERT” was printed in a neat calligraphy on the paper, “AND GO SOON” it added in the way that paper normally can’t.
The black bird, which had fallen from the window of Imageous’s cell onto the hard stone floor dissolved in a plume of multicoloured smoke, and blew away with the next breeze as if it were nothing at all, and Imageous got to wondering what in the name of goodness a desert might be, and where he might find one.
TO BE CONTINUED
© Peter Rogerson 25.01.17

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