THE BLASTED DESERT Chapter Seventeen

25 Feb


Imageous had heard the word “fair” before, when he had been offered (and had gratefully taken) a lift in a fairground lorry. That had been going to a fair and he was sure the driver had mentioned Swanspottle. It wasn’t the sort of word you could easily forget.

He didn’t know it, of course, but Swanspottle was a rather special village in that it was the residence of a rather special and by then very old woman, one Griselda Entwhistle (of which more has been written elsewhere, so she need not be mentioned any further here unless she crops up as an accessory now that I’m approaching the climax of my tale.)

He also knew what a helicopter might be, but here it is necessary to consider scale and the diminishing affects of distance. He’d seen the odd helicopter through his cell window back in the Monastery, his attention logically drawn by the sounds they make, often loud and always a far from pleasing raucous racket. And what he had seen had been small and moving purposefully across the sky, like toys, and he found himself struggling to work out how the four of them were going to fit into something so diminutive unless magic was involved. It would surely be the only way, and magic was funny stuff.

He believed in magic. His whole life had been dependant on being guided and governed by an invisible force that would ultimately judge him and cast him to either Heaven or Hell when his time came, and it has been noted already that his personal preference was Hell.

The existence of this all-powerful magic had been so hammered into his head that to see his raison d’etre in any other light would have been unthinkable, though where he saw his particular sect’s attitude to ladies of the night and the forgiveness of any sins they might be committing as part of their calling is hard to say. It was a contradiction he cared not to think about because nobody else did. But this invisible force was magic, pure and simple, with no roots in reality, yet he would never see it that way because he was incapable of making any judgement that was at odds with what had been shoe-horned into his head since his infancy.

So he imagined there would be shrinkage of his and the others’ bulk, some divine reduction of their flesh until they fit into the tiny flying machine he had glimpsed from time to time through his cell window. He thought it might prove to be uncomfortable, but assured himself that the powers in charge made sure the shrinkage would be neither painful nor permanent.

Breakfast over and the dirty dishes put into a machine the very purpose of which was beyond Imageous’ understanding, someone said it was time they were on their way, and they all stood up, Imageous rather hesitantly because his mind was little more than a fog of confusion in which the dish-washer played its part.

Enid led the way once she had made sure that he and Bertie were sensibly dressed for the adventure she hoped would lie ahead. Bertie had an overcoat but Imageous had never owned anything of the kind, not one in his whole seventy-year existence, though in truth the inside of the Monastery in winter would have been made more comfortable by the ownership of something thick and snugly.

Fortunately Alphonse was able to provide his with a furry and spare winter coat, and he felt the luxury to be an absurdity in summer. But Enid insisted, the reason she gave having something to do with the temperature inside clouds, which further served to confuse him. So wear it he did. Enid terrified him, largely because of the very shortness of her skirt together with the length of leg it revealed and the low-cut blouse she was wearing which also opened a window into mysteries beyond his understanding, and he would never dare to question anything she suggested.

We’re ready, then,” she told them when she was happy with the way they were dressed,, and they followed her out of the cottage, waiting while she locked the door and attended to the security alarm. She was, after all, a wealthy woman and wealth can attract the seedier sort of individual who prefers to take rather than earn and she counted a burglar alwarm as an essential piece of kit.

Then she led the way across her capacious back lawn, neatly manicured and mowed, and down a grassed pathway that curled out of sight so they couldn’t see what lay ahead until they got there. But when they finished the curl it was perfectly clear that an area had been marked as a helicopter landing target and sitting neatly on it like a metal god was a helicopter.

But it wasn’t a toy, not a tiny piece of frippery that roared unpleasantly across the sky, but a vehicle easily large enough to hold the four of them. It was big, and big things like that could never fly in the skies like the midget ones did. Imageous was sure of that much if he was sure of little else.

The very sight of it was enough for him. Life had become worse than an intolerable strain and he remembered that he was seventy-three (which was ancient by Monastery standards) and consequently considered himself far from adaptable to the unknown … and this helicopter was most assuredly the unknown.

When his eyes fell on it he stood stubbornly stock still, and stared.

It’s just like a car that flies,” hissed Bertie when he saw how transfixed his senior Brother had become.

But that didn’t help Imageous much because he’d never been in a car. An ambulance, yes, and the fairground lorry, but never a car. So the assurance from Bertie really fell onto deaf ears.

Enid and Alphonse watched as he fell heavily and with dreadful slow-motion onto his knees, weeping, and then lay flat on the grass on his stomach, shaking like a fig-leaf. His tears flowed for no particular reason as far as Enid could tell, but Imageous knew exactly why he was crying. It had to do with an accumulation of experiences that were way beyond his compass, and this helicopter and the threat that it represented was one step too far.

I can’t! I can’t! I can’t” he wept, physically vibrating and his face as pale as a dead chicken.

But it’s fun, Brother,” said Bertie, “you’ll love it!”

But the only thing Imageous knew about love was the hollow feeling he had got hears ago when the Father Superior had beaten love and faith and beauty into him when he himself had been a novice, and the pain he felt while his elementary lesson healed. And he knew that if he was to love the adventure that it seemed lay ahead it would hurt like wounds always hurt, and he knew all about pain.

He wasn’t going to go anywhere near that helicopter, not now and not ever! It was, in fact, the last straw.


© Peter Rogerson 10.02.17


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