19 Feb


“Imageous! Brother Imageous! Is that you?”

It was the Father Superior calling in a voice that wavered and quavered like the last scrapings of a rusty saw, and as he stood there perplexed and wondering what in the name of goodness was going to happen next Imageous watched the ancient leader of his order totter towards him. In the distance there came the wailing of something he would never understand, and a small crowd was beginning to gather by the Monastery as smoke curled from its broken roof.

He was sure that he smelt the filthy old man before he was within ten yards of him, and that smell riding on the summer breeze took his mind back a whole twenty-four hours to when he’d left the Monastery at the start of his search for the far side of the blasted desert.

For the first time ever he found himself wondering does the place exist? Is there any such marvel on this world as a blasted desert? Or am I on a fool’s mission, sent forth by a creature from a nightmare?

“You’re wet,” quivered the Father Superior, stating the blatantly obvious. “Come and get some dry togs before you catch your death…”

Imageous did realise that he was wet. It had come with the storm and he’d not been out of the rain for long enough for his hospital-issue pyjamas to dry on him, and such was the residual power in the broken voice of his life-long superior that he found himself teetering behind the ancient and malodorous creature out of a habit that had been built from seven decades of absolute obedience.

The ancient monastery was clearly on fire and flames were beginning to find their way into the clean air of a little English town, smudging it with all kinds if filth, but the two entered it anyway. The worst of the blaze was still some distance from the entrance, and anyway Imageous didn’t know much about fire.

There was a large anteroom not far from the entrance, a room where visitors from the past had shed their clothes before venturing into the then more wholesome depths of the place, and the older man unlocked its door and ushered Imageous in.

“Take what you need and get dressed,” he ordered. “I’ll keep guard,” he added, making this desperate exploit sound very much like two naughty schoolboys discovering there might be fun in spying on in flesh after all.

Appreciating the sense in wearing dry stuff Imageous looked around and gasped. The room was full of clothing, most of it of a pink and fluffy nature and clearly intended for the sort of women who had a penchant for pink. He didn’t have time to wonder what was what, though, but helped himself to a dressing gown with the most luxurious fluffy collar and a printed pattern of roses all over it, dragged off his pyjamas and managed to pull the dressing gown on in double quick time.

“You’ll need a codpiece,” pointed out the Father, and Imageous shook his head. He was never again going to wear anything leather against his bits and pieces, not ever, so he selected a rather fetching pair of clearly feminine knickers and pulled them on. They were barely big enough to contain his still scabby male parts, but that didn’t matter.

There was an increasing furore happening outside the Monastery. It had started as he and the Father Superior had made their way in and it was getting louder, voices shouting and bellowing together with the droning of a couple of sirens and the clanging of a bell, raucous in the peaceful air. But there were sounds of a more worrying nature. The roof above their heads was falling in. They were safe for the moment, but it wouldn’t be long before the store-room of exotic clothing was ablaze as sparks flew down from above. And smoke was oozing in, nasty, acrid, bitter smoke, the last remnants of centuries of death watch beetles and allied inhabitants.

“Come on!” gasped Imageous, and “Father, sir,” he added.

The Father Superior shook his head and smiled almost seraphically.

“You go, my son,” he said, “and I will mayhap follow when I will.”

It was an odd thing for him to say, but Imageous was in too much of a hurry to bother worrying about syntax and the uncertainties of some sentences, and he scurried back into the open air, assuming that his beloved and hated (in just about equal measures) superior was following him.

Things had changed outside in the few minutes it had taken him to select his tasteful change of clothing. There were two large red vehicles with uniformed men in helmets uncoiling pipes from them and beginning to spray the Monastery with copious quantities of water. When one of them saw him his grabbed him by one shoulder, an agonising thing to be done to a man still covered in obscene sores under the pink fluff, and Imageous almost wept at the pain.

“How many more are there inside?” demanded the burly fire-fighter.

Imageous shook his head, finding understanding a thing that didn’t come so easily, and anyway he had no idea whether there were any more people inside the old building, though he was worried about Brother Caspianus who he assumed must still be alive as he was considerably younger than himself.

“Caspianus,” he gasped through the smoke, “and the Father,” he added as the older man didn’t seem to have followed him.

There came a mighty crash and what remained of the roof fell in and Imageous shuddered. He knew that moments earlier he’d been standing in a room directly under the heaviest part of that collapse, and as if to confirm it a sheet of flames soared up into the skies, carrying with it the unmistakable fragrance of burning textiles and, thought Imageous, the sweeter scent of scorching human flesh. Maybe the Father Superior was still there.

The fireman released his grip and Imageous fell to the ground. Then, realising that everyone was too busy to take any notice of him he crawled away like a toddler crawling away from a piece of toddler mischief.

“Look at that daft man in a girlie gown,” squeaked a small voice.

“Be quiet, Jane, he might be a mad man and he might hear,” reproved a more adult voice.

“He’s daft isn’t he, mummy?”

“If you say so, Jane. Now come over here!”

Imageous wasn’t remotely bothered about the gender that the dressing gown he was wearing was designed for, just that it kept his nakedness covered as he made his way to a desert he wondered if he believed in any more.

As he glanced back at every crash that came from a monastery that had been standing by the kind of fluke that makes one brick stand on another without either of them succumbing to the laws of nature, a thought struck him.

I know the desert, he thought, that the big black bird told me about, and it’s there … in that dirty old place and vanishing with the flames, and it’s inside me, too. It’s my life, my whole past life, and I suppose it will be my future life too…

Unless I really, really try to do something about it…


© Peter Rogerson 04.02.17


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