THE BLASTED DESERT Chapter Seven

13 Feb

7. CONFUSION AND AMBULANCES
Police stations like to function bright and early and Imageous was woken at the same time as a persistent sparrow decided to serenade him from the other side of the barred window that was his only access to the outside world by a yawning policeman.

He’d had a really bad night made worse by the revisiting around midnight by the gigantic hook-billed black bird. Remember, it was not of the species that was blackbird but the bird that was black. And enormous. Truly, humongously enormous.

“So you have made it this far, Brother,” it said in its suave ultra middle-class voice and looking at him out of the single eye whilst the other remained outside, concentrating on the free world beyond Imageous’s bars. “It is good to note that you are imbued with the spirit of adventure.” it added as if telling a special joke.

Imageous felt sullen, so he remained silent. This was the very bird that had sent him forth on this nightmare of a journey and had landed him in a small, comfortable (compared to the Monastery) but locked-door cell.

“You must continue,” said the bird, and it seemed to Imageous that the creature was almost gloating, not by what it said but the way it said it. The voice was oily, genteel, and anyway wasn’t the bird supposed to be dead? After all, it had dissolved into thin air back at the start of an odyssey that was ruining Imageous’ life, so it would be only fair if it could remain an ex-bird.

“Who says so?” demanded Imageous, knowing what the answer would be.

“I told you before. My Master,” intoned the bird, and it put its head on one side so that the single eye with which it surveyed Imageous seemed to occupy all of his world with its huge glistening severity.

“And if I refuse?” demanded Imageous, feeling suddenly emboldened because the other prisoner in the cells had started snoring, which took him back to nights spent in the long ago of his life when, as a teenager, he had shared a cell with Brother Caspianus, another young monk, one who was unreasonably romantically inclined towards him and who often spent the night snoring next to him. Back then he, Imageous, had been the dominant one of the two … it had before he had developed his ugly skin conditions … and had absolutely refused to do any of the apparently dubious things suggested by his friend, who became sulky at the rejection and then proceeded to snore throughout the remainder of the night.

But the snoring, albeit from another cell and by a drunken misanthrope who had been locked up for the night like he was at least once a month in summer and most of the time in winter, brought back his own sense of superiority and he asked again, “And if I refuse?”

“It is the Master’s instruction!” exploded a bemused gigantic bird who had never heard the suggestion of refusal before.

“Sod the Master!” grunted Imageous so boldly he could hardly believe his own ears when he heard himself utter the blasphemy, and he grabbed hold of the bird by its neck and twisted it with much more violence than he had last time.

“Oh, not again!” squawked the wretched bird, and it dissolved into a rainbow of multicoloured smoke and faded into the dim light coming into the cell from outside until it was no more, dropping a small folded piece of paper as it did so.

Imageous picked up the paper, but it was too dark for him to make out what might be written on it or if, by any chance, anything was, so he tucked it under the waistband of his mini-kilt and lay back down on his far too comfortable bed and tossed and turned before eventually dosing off again.

And the aforementioned very early came with the song of a sparrow.

His cell door opened after a loud scratching sound as a key was turned in a rusty lock, and a blue-clad man complete with large blue pimple of his head thrust a tray in.

“Breakfast and then it’s hospital for you, lad,” he said.

The breakfast was far too delicious for a mere Brother to contemplate eating, consisting as it did of a slice of buttered toast smeared with a few baked beans. Imageous was only used to the usual dish of thin cabbage stew for all of his meals, breakfast included, and the whole idea of a mere mortal like himself eating more luxuriously than that sent shivers down his spine and made him question his tortured faith.

But he was hungry so he ate it anyway.

Then, when blue-pimple wasn’t looking, he remembered the slip of paper that had fluttered from the dying black bird during the night and produced it from the waistband of his kilt. There were noxious greases on it, probably from one or more of the many sores that time had failed to deal with as they erupted from his skin, but he could make out the writing with relative ease.

“THE DESERT IS WITHIN”, it said in scrawly capitals. “REMEMBER, GO SOON.”

Blue pimple returned and growled something incomprehensible at him and Imageous looked puzzled, as you would when someone in charge is being incomprehensible.

“Do you know where I might find the desert?” asked Imageous, ignoring incomprehensibility. After all, here he was, an unwillingly guest in a strange little room being stared at by a man with an oddly-shaped blue head and a scowl, and he wanted to find that desert. Whatever else he thought about the huge black bird with its savage beak, he knew it came from his heavenly master, and as such must be obeyed.

“There aren’t any deserts near here, mate,” said the policemen with a thoughtful grin on his face, “in fact, there ain’t any deserts this side of Africa, you Wally!” and with a good-humoured frown he grabbed Imageous by one arm. “You finished your breakfast, mate?” he snarled, “’cause it’s time for you to get some treatment in hospital, you disgusting, filthy little bastard!”

Imageous was half-dragged, half-pushed along the same corridor that he’d been half-dragged and half pushed along the evening before, and down a short flight of stairs that led to the big wide world outside where an ambulance was waiting for him.

Most people would have known it was an ambulance. It was distinctly marked AMBULANCE and had blue lights (thankfully not flashing) to confirm its status.

But Imageous had spent a very limited life in a very limited building, and although odd sounds from outside his cell had percolated every so often past his apathy and into his ears, he had no idea what made them. And, anyway, he had no idea what an ambulance might be and why one was where it was. His education had been somewhat limited.

So when he was half-pushed, half-ushered into the back of the ambulance he was totally ignorant at to what it was, what it did and why he had to go into it.

So he did the only thing he could think of doing.

He crouched down on his haunches until he was almost sitting on the hard metal floor of the ambulance, and wept.

I mean, what else could such a fellow do?

TO BE CONTINUED…

© Peter Rogerson 31.01.17

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