THE BLASTED DESERT Chapter Twenty-two

3 Mar

22. METAMORPHOSIS

It was several hours later, the helicopter had been carefully repositioned on a playing field that bordered a half-full reservoir where random people fished and where a sad old man spent half his life walking mindlessly round it, and a doctor told them they could see his patient at last.

His patient was sitting up in bed, a crusty old man with prostate problems and a penchant for using a fascinating range of four-letter words, and nothing like the ancient woman with a dicky heart they were expecting to see.

“This isn’t her!” said Enid, “our friend’s an old bird!”

The doctor immediately apologised for his mistake, said it was on account of having worked a seventy-three hour shift on account of financial cuts in the National Health Service and said he was looking forward to giving the Prime Minister a vasectomy any day now if he bothered to turn up for a photo opportunity like politicians do.

“Isn’t the prime Minister a woman?” asked Bertie, who was up to date with such things.

“Then she can have a mastectomy instead,” he growled, “A double one. I think your old woman is in this bed over here.”

“They’ve recharged my batteries and I’m ready to go, go, go,” Fanny squawked when they finally found her bed. “Though they want to keep me for observation on account of my age,” she added. “I am ninety, you know. I do hope someone’s watching my hook-a-duck stall or I’ll be down a few bob.”

“You’re as rich as Croesus!” snapped Enid, “I reckon to have a few coppers shelved away, but you’ve got ten times more!”

“I want my boy to inherit it so I’m not likely to spend it,” murmured Fanny Crotchet. “He’s such a sweet child in his cute little grey flannel shorts and lisp.”

“He doesn’t wear grey shorts any more, Fanny,” said Enid, “though I hear he looks cute in a kilt.”

“He’s here and doesn’t like being talked about as if he was deaf and stupid!” put in Imageous. “I’m afraid your little Iggy has grown old and grey and hasn’t much longer in this world than you have,” he added, finally seeming to drop the last emasculating echoes of seventy years in a monastery under the loving discipline of a harsh Father Superior.

“Of course! It’s you!” smiled Fanny, “come here, sweet boy, and sit on mummy’s lap for a maternal cuddle.”

“You? Maternal? That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard this decade!” almost screeched Enid. “It’s like saying the Pope’s atheist!”

“Oh, so you’ve heard?” grinned Fanny. “I don’t know which pope it was, but I had one of them on my books for quite a long time and when he got to me I’ve got to say he was keen! Trouble is, he was so keen it was all over in not much more than a moment and it seemed rather cruel when I asked for my payment. But he always coughed up. Said there are rooms of the stuff in the Vatican and nobody would ever miss the odd trinket.”

“You see, I never managed a Pope, but I did make a few thousand myself from the clergy,” sighed Enid. “And I know what you mean about them being keen! It’s the celibacy that does it, especially now they’ve been warned to keep their hands off choirboys.”

“Mummy, you squawked,” interrupted an increasingly bored Imageous who’d had enough of the clergy of one kind to last him a lifetime. “I heard you,” he added.

“Oh dear. You did?” Then I’d better tell you before they give me an injection that makes me sleep,” sighed Fanny.

“Go on then before we all nod off. Dear,” urged Enid.

“It was way back in the fifties,” sighed Fanny. “The second war hadn’t been over so long and all the main countries were testing nuclear weapons as if there was going to be no tomorrow, and, truth to tell, some of us thought there wouldn’t be. Anyway, I had a particularly cute little man on my elbow back then, a Lord of the Realm, and not one of the Jonny-come-lately types but a gentleman who could trace his ancestry back to William the Bastard.”

“You mean William the Conqueror?” asked Bertie, who knew more history than a novice has any right to know.

“The same,” nodded Fanny. “Anyway, he, that was my trick and not the ancient king, got it into his head that we’d be safer on a nice little island he’d had in his family since the South Sea Bubble burst, and we should hide there until all the silly talk of war was over and done with, and as he was paying me handsomely for my company I went along with it. So we flew to the South seas, and true to his word we found the island. There was a lovely little cottage with five or six bedrooms in the middle of it, and beaches with foaming briny all the way round, and we would have been fine there bur for the fact that the yanks or someone decided to blow it to smithereens with a nuclear test.”

“How awful!” whispered Enid, who couldn’t quite remember the bad old days when just about everywhere was polluted by the effluence of nuclear testing.

“Anyway, we were on the beach when we got the first idea that something might be wrong, and he pushed me into a cave for safety, but was a bit on the slow side himself. The blast hit him and turned him from being a three-dimensional man to a dusty shadow on the rocky wall of the cliff-side in no time at all, and that was him over and done with.”

“Poor you,” soothed Enid.

“Anyway, the radiation got me, too, even though I was protected by the walls of the cave. After the winds had died down, and they were scary, I can assure you, they scattered the last dust of my beau to the four corners of creation, I found I had changed beyond belief.”

“You had?” stammered Imageous.

“I had indeed. You see, somehow, don’t ask me how it happened, I found I was able to change myself with very little effort, at will, from the very attractive woman I was to something quite horrible.”

“You could?” stammered Imageous.

“Oh yes, son, I could. And I could change myself with the same amount of ease back again.”

“So what could you change into, Fanny?” asked Enid.

“That’s easy. I’ll show you and then you’ll understand. At first I’m me, an old woman who’s taken care of herself and then I can be … squawk….”

And before their eyes and to their huge and heart-numbing surprise the patient in the bed metamorphosed from a delicate old woman with a recharged pacemaker to a huge, black-feathered bird with a dangerous looking hooked bill and a tendency to stare out of one eye at the time.

“Oh my…” whispered Imageous.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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