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

 
 
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