THE BLASTED DESERT Chapter Ten

18 Feb

10. HITCHING A RIDE

“Now what were you doing under that tree in such a storm?” asked the driver of the heavily laden low-loader after he had struggled with the wet weight of Imageous, who was weeping, carrying him from under the canopy of the fallen tree and pushing him into the passenger seat. The rain was still beating down steadily and the two of them were wet, Imageous considerably more so than the driver, by the time the doors had been slammed shut and the air conditioner turned on.
Imageous shivered and sighed. Obviously an answer was called for even though he had no idea what it should be. He was, after all, an alien in an alien place and more uncomfortable than he’d ever been. And he was dressed only in hospital pyjamas, not ideal in the middle of a storm and in the open. The saturated Brother looked around him, then at the driver who was doing his best not to scowl at him, and then nervously at his own feet.
What was he doing there? He didn’t actually know. He’d made his getaway from the sterile hospital where they’d made him feel a great deal better in so short a time, and he didn’t know why he’d left the place. After all, he was feeling more comfortable than life had been for him since his distant childhood, and now he’d left its comforts he may revert to the misery of a life of searing pain. He’d found himself getting wetter than wet as the Heavens opened … and that was no doubt a response by his mysterious and powerful Lord and Master to something he’d done that perhaps he shouldn’t have done, or vice-versa … but how was he to know what it was?
Life was like that. Governed by mighty invisible forces, a powerful being who had his own secret agenda, and the emphasis was on secret. He (or she, it might have been a she, though Imageous doubted it) didn’t want mere mortals to know why they were doing what they were actually doing and certainly didn’t want mere mortals to know what they were not supposed to do. If you didn’t do anything wrong because you knew what wrong was, then there’d be no punishment, and life was dictated by a tiny bit of reward and a lot of punishment. It always had been thus. The Father Superior saw to that.
It was all so confusing. Life was all so confusing. And so was crime and punishment.
If you don’t know what’s evil then how can you know not to do it? he asked himself for the thousandth time (give or take a few) before forcing himself to reply to the bulky driver’s question.
“I don’t know,” he said after a long pause for thought, which hadn’t come. “I was … the hospital…” he added, and even he knew that he sounded pathetic.
“I can see you’re still in your jim-jams, but each to his own,” grinned the driver, “now just you wait here with me and when this blasted rain goes away we’ll be off and I’ll drop you somewhere safe, where you won’t be attacked by falling trees.”
The storm rallied for a while and beat down heavily before it had thrashed itself out of existence and a sudden calm fell onto the world. Clouds magically dispersed and blue replaced the grey. And although it was a warm day despite the rain Imageous felt cold and started shivering.
“You shouldn’a left the hospital,” growled the driver, “but just you stay there and I know the right place for you, where they’ll look after you good and proper and you’ll be okay. If it’s still there, that is. Things change, don’t they? They say the world is in a state of flux…”
Whilst Imageous tried to make sense of that last piece of philosophy the driver started the low-loader and pulled slowly away, into the road with a roar and a rumble
Most people wouldn’t be too troubled by an engine being started and a lorry moving with ponderous majesty off into a road that stretched out in front of them, but to Imageous and his limited experience of all things normal it was terrifying. The noise confused him, made him think that something must surely be wrong even though the other man looked happy enough. So he sat bolt upright and tried not to shiver too much as they proceeded down the road and back towards Brumpton.
“We’ll be there soon, chappie,” said the driver, glancing at him. “Why were you in hospital?”
Imageous didn’t know. He’d been inside the hospital, had been told enough times that it was a hospital so that he wouldn’t forget the word, but had no idea what people did there above dousing strangers in tubs of warm water and scrubbing them with vile smelling substances before making them swallow mysterious little bits and pieces.
So he shook his head.
“I guess you’ve forgotten,” grunted the driver. “Well, I’m not dropping you off at hospital but I reckon I know just the place for you, if it’s still there.”
“No hospital?” croaked Imageous, still shivering.
“No hospital,” agreed the driver. “I must say I’m not so keen on the places myself. They’re where people walk in hale and hearty and get carried out in boxes, if you ask me.”
That set Imageous thinking. He wasn’t quite sure what was meant by being carried out in boxes, but there was a finality to the words that troubled him.
“It’s a nice little town this,” said the driver as the fields gave way to housing and the odd shop. “I’m setting up the fair at Swanspottle, the maddest village anywhere under the sun! But Brumpton itself, it’s peaceful, quiet, you know, the sort of place that an old fellow like you should feel at home.”
Imageous had heard of Brumpton. Of course he had! It was somewhere in Brumpton where the Monastery he’d lived almost his entire life in could be found. The very word Brumpton had a homely, comforting ring to it.
And it was in Brumpton that the driver said he would drop his passenger.
“You’ll find warmth and a change of clothes there,” said the driver, pointing ahead of them as he drew his lorry to a standstill., “so off you go, lad, and the best of luck to you.”
He helped Imageous to the ground, no small feat for the older man to achieve, using muscles that had done very little for most of his life, and pointed just down the road from where they were parked.
“You’ll find summat in there,” he said, and then he made his way back into his cab and drove off as quickly as he could. No doubt he wanted to be rid of his peculiar passenger and be off before anything happened, like the old man falling off the twig of life and dying in front of him.
Imageous looked at where the driver had pointed.
It was his home! There in front of him, real and solid as ever, was the Monastery where he’d spent all of his adult life as well as most of his childhood.
And as he gazed at it, with an awful slow motion its roof fell in where less than an hour earlier another bolt of lightning had set a warming fire blazing in its ancient rafters.
And there, hobbling towards him came the doubly incontinent Father Superior, dribbling and simultaneously evacuating his bowels as he staggered along. And for the first time in his life Imageous realised that this might not be the perfect place to be after all.
© Peter Rogerson 03.02.17

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