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AT THE PEARLY GATES

3 Jul

See them gates out there, them pearly gates, them shiny pearly gates, that entrance to…. wherever.

That wherever over there. This place, call it what you will, call it Heaven, call it Hell, but it’s here that I’m waiting. See me waiting. See me in the shadows, see the urchins walking past, one and two and one and two, little kids drowned before their times, Mediterranean waters in their lungs as they fought for freedom from war and hatred, and lost. And others. See the old men past their times, pee-stained crotches, minds lost so long ago they’ll never find them again, eyes pale, like water can be pale… see them trooping through them pearly gates. See them go!

Through them shiny pearly gates.

And the lasses, breathing like lasses never did in life, breathing for death… pretty lasses, breasts held pert like breasts should be, legs long and skirts short… see them lasses, old crones, haggard, wrinkled, mindless, trooping ever on, through them pearly gates, all on a one-way walk to…

But not me. Short skirts and long legs notwithstanding, I’m here, waiting. Got to wait. Look and you’ll see me. No, not there but here, in these shadows, waiting for her…

Waiting for my Rosie to come to me.

We said we would, or I did. Whoever goes first, we said, whoever is the weakest and yields first and pegs it like all mortals must, then he or she’ll wait for the other however long it takes… and I went first.

It started with a cough. Not much of a cough to tell the truth, but all the time like coughs shouldn’t be. And sure enough it heralded my first step and these shadows. These bloody, unlit shadows in the shelter of them pearly gates. See them! See the way they shine!

Reflecting light, they are. Reflecting light from beyond the gates, the other side, but I ain’t going there, so sirree, not until my Rosie comes to me. That’s what we said. What we agreed. So the tide of folks go past.

See them go! People watching, that’s what I’m doing, people watching like I always did back when there was breath in my lungs and skin on my bones and bones on my soul… Sitting on a bench in the park and staring. Lasses with their short skirts. People watching like good folks do. Old men withered by years and stumbling on the turves.

And now here.

But so many people. Dead people.

Why do babies die? Who said they should? And who’s to carry them beyond the great pearly gates? There’s one there, too tiny to crawl, too tiny to know anything but death, and it just don’t seem fair somehow. Where’s the mite going, the tiny little scrap of … of what? Of meat that’s underdone, overcooked, boned? And there it goes, almost drifting, almost not moving, through the gates, those blasted pearly gates, and me waiting still for Rosie.

She can’t be long, can she? I went first, I said I always would, the cough carried me off, that bloody dreadful cough, the cough that wracked my body until it wracked the last puff of breath from my soul, and I came to these shadows to wait.

And watch.

The old woman, see her shuffle, fleshless, boneless, shuffling along on feet that haven’t seen a slipper since she died, and won’t ever again. See her nose dripping, her wretched dead nose drip, drip, dripping like noses do on little kids but not on ghosts…

And here I am in my shadows, watching and waiting.

Rosie was an angel all her life. I must have loved her, I damned well must have. I held her hand, didn’t I, when the night bogies scared her? She’d cry and I’d hush her, and maybe a bit fiercely but who can tell how hard he punches until he’s done it and the bruises swell? And who can sleep through the fear of bogies in the night, creatures who never were but still are? It’s a crying shame, but that’s the way things were. Who could help it? Rosie and her bogies, silly Rosie with her bruises…

I’ll wait for you… I hacked through my shattered lungs at her, and she smiled at me and said we’ll see…

I knew what she meant. That we’d see. What I wasn’t so sure of was what we’d see. Or when. I didn’t expect these pearly gates and the endless trooping of folks, endless, crowds, millions in a day…

If there are days, of course. Days are things we live through in life, but here in the shadow of the pearly gates there don’t seem to be days, nor nights, nor any portion of time that is measured. It’s just here. And folks, trooping by, into the place beyond the pearly gates, and I’m waiting for my Rosie to come and join me.

Then we’ll go through those gates together. I’ll hold her hand like in the teen days, I might even kiss her one last time, and then we’ll go through together like lovers should.

There’s light beyond, bright light, and I can’t wait to be bathed by it. With Rosie…

How long has it been?

That’s a question and a half, that is. How long has it been since I coughed my last with the pain racking my bones and body, and I said with my head if not with words my goodbyes to Rosie. I did, you know, I looked at her as the light faded, as the sounds drained out of creation, as I left her staring at me … she might have had contempt in those eyes, but I knew better. I knew we were meant to be together…

Whoever goes first must wait for the other, I said, and she nodded. Of course she nodded. I knew I’d be first but I stuck to my words anyway. I knew what it would be like. And, you’ll come and find me, won’t you? I insisted. I’m bound to go first, aren’t I? Paying the price for all the mischief of my life… I’ll be waiting…

Waiting in the shadows of the pearly gates.

Whatever you think… That’s the way she agreed, my Rosie, my angel, and to think we’ve walked through our lives together. Not always happy, but together. Like life ought to be. Like the preacher said when we stood before him … oh, half a century and more ago.

The troops of folk walked in, some slow, some faster, some barely moving, some almost running, old folks and young, yellow and brown and white, all manner of folks, all trooping through those pearly gates.

And Rosie!

Here she comes! Oh mighty me, here she comes!

Her face like it always was, her eyes, that hair…. I loved her hair always, burnished gold, it was, burnished gold like sunlight woven onto a precious head.

But…

That’s not my hand she’s holding… those aren’t my eyes she’s gazing into … that’s not me at her side…

Walking with her, through those pearly gates.

It isn’t me.

And through, not pausing, not glancing my way, not caring that I’m there like I promised, but through those gates with … who is she with? I don’t know him, but it is a him, and gone…

Wait till I catch her! I won’t half teach her a lesson, what with all this waiting!

Because I waited this eternity for her, here in the shadows, here in the painful dark, here where no light shines…

© Peter Rogerson 03.07.17

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THE BLASTED DESERT Chapter Twenty-six

11 Mar

26. THE FAIRY CASTLE

The island, when they got there, was beautiful and contrasted most favourably with everything Digory had ever known.

It was green where it should be green, the beaches were golden where they should be golden and Digory felt instantly at home there.

Yet there was just one obstacle to his joy.

Fanny had landed on the beach after a short bird-powered flight from a considerably bigger island, one that had an airport where they had landed after the longest flight he could imagine anyone taking. But he’d got used to it … just. He supposed he’d had to, or go insane

The feel of sand beneath his feet, warm and soft, made him rip his shoes off and bask in the glory of it. He had little experience of sand and had yet to learn that it can be truly annoying if it gets between the toes, and sticks there. But if that were to happen at all it would happen in the future.

Then they came to the aforementioned obstacle.

It was a turnstile with a large notice attached, advising any who wished to pass it to pay their taxes OR ELSE. It didn’t say or else what, but it did look serious as though the person who had erected it had privacy in mind, and privacy for one can mean danger for everyone else.

“The coins,” murmured Fanny, “the special coins you were given.”

It hadn’t been so long ago in real time but Digory remembered what the Father Superior at the Monastery had said and pulled a small bag out of his pocket. More by luck than judgement he hadn’t lost it despite the changes of clothing he’d had to make in the interim.

“Good boy,” approved Fanny, and Digory felt like telling her it was almost a lifetime since he’d been one of those. It wasn’t that he felt particularly old, he didn’t, but by the same token he didn’t feel particularly young either. Some of his joints ached and he couldn’t bend his legs like he once had.

He inserted the coins into the turnstile money-slot and pushed against it.

A mechanical voice made him jump. “Thank you,” it said, and “Welcome, but leave your gods here.”

The two of them passed through the turnstile and stood for a moment looking around them.

The path that they were on was green with springy grass, the sky above them was the sort of blue that pollution has yet to get to and the air smelled sweet, of the growing things about them, wild spring flowers, fragrant trees, things like that.

“It’s perfect,” sighed Digory.

“That’s what I’ve always thought,” whispered his mother. “Come on, we’ll walk from here on. It isn’t far.”

They hadn’t gone far when the verdant growth thinned out and sand, a very different kind from that on the beach, crunched beneath their feet and Digory replaced his shoes. It was harsh to his soles compared with the softness of the beach.

He trudged on.

“Look behind you,|” whispered Fanny after they had walked a few hundred yards on the crunching sand, and Digory turned round to look. The verdant path they’d walked along had already merged with the distance and all he could see in any detail was the grey sand beneath their feet.

“This is weird,” he said,

“It’s an optical illusion,” his Mother told him, “and it discourages anyone who’s managed to trespass this far.”

Digory nodded. It would have discouraged him had he been on his own, he decided, and he turned back to carry on walking across that monotonous sand.

“It always was a little weird, as you put it,” whispered Fanny, “but fear not. It doesn’t go on like this for ever. Look, and what do you see?”

She pointed, and Digory followed the direction her outstretched arm was indicating. Ahead of them, as if out of a mist or a dream, emerged a building. And he had never seen such a building before. If there ever was such a place as a fairytale castle, this was it, but on a cosily small scale, unthreatening and certainly not looking remotely military. It had spires and towers, crenelations and turrets, and yet at the same time it looked homely.

“He’s here,” whispered Fanny. “I brought him here to die.”

“Who,” asked Digory.

“Your father,” silly,” replied his mother, and she led the way to the castle door, over a drawbridge and through an arched doorway until she came to the door itself.

“I’m here, so open,” she said quietly, and the door swung open.

“Those are the words that are better than a key because keys can be lost,” she told Digory. “However, you can only forget words, and it’s best to make sure you don’t.”

“I’m here, so open,” whispered Digory.

She smiled at him. “And I’m in, so close, she said, and the door swung silently to behind them. To Digory it was magic. He’d never met anything voice-operated before and so it was indistinguishable from fairytale magic.

The vestibule they were in was small but tastefully modern in the minimalist style with very little to break its contours or collect dust. Digory looked around and thought how well it contrasted with the Monastery and its diry untidiness that had been his home for so many years.

“Now remember this,” whispered Fanny, “the message I left at the beginning, about seeking a desert and crossing it, and doing it soon?”

Digory nodded, too confused to trust himself to actual words.

“Well, you’ve just crossed the desert and now that you’re here you’ll find out why it had to be soon.”

He nodded again, his mother’s words as good as meaningless.

“This way, then” said Fanny, and she led the way through another door into a sumptuous yet human-sized lounge. Around the edge were sofas and soft seats and against one wall was a large television screen. But in the very centre, and like a king commanding his domain, sat a lonely figure in a high-backed chair.

“There’s no need to stand on ceremony here, Imageous,” it said in a voice that quivered with age and yet was instantly recognisable to one who had known it all his life.

“Father Superior…” gasped Digory/Imageous.

“The very same, my son, and welcome at last to my true home…” croaked the ancient figure with the merest suggestion of a transatlantic accent, and as he said those words his head sunk down onto his chest and his eyes closed, and a long and final sigh escaped his lips, followed by a dead silence.

THE END

© Peter Rogerson 19.02.17

THE BLASTED DESERT Chapter Twenty-three

4 Mar

23. TO THE SKIES

“What in the name of…” gasped Alphonse, his eyes suddenly seeming to be as big as saucers as he reached for Enid’s hand in order to steady himself, and missing as he grasped her left breast and squeezed inadvertently.

“Many apologies…” he added. “I didn’t mean…”

“I did warn you,” said the bird in its well-modulated rather masculine voice. “Radiation can do strange things, even create a monster like me, if you think I’m a monster, that is … but with a little lateral thinking I can return to…” and before their very eyes the bird seemed to melt into smoke and reform as the old woman in a bed complete with pace-maker and a winsome smile.

“That’s some trick,” whispered Bertie.

“I do it all the time,” grinned Fanny, “which is why I like my life with the fair. You see, I’ve got twenty/twenty night vision and when nobody’s likely to see I can fly wherever I choose and only return to my human shape when I get there.”

“It’s impossible…” breathed Alphonse, “one set of DNA can’t do that, can’t become two such very different beings at the drop of a hat!”

“There are no hats involved,” reprimanded Fanny, “and yes, I can as you just saw, so before you use words like impossible try trusting the evidence of your own eyes.”

“It’s a clever trick, but what use is it?” asked Enid, her voice coloured by the merest suggestion of jealousy. She would rather have liked to be able to morph into something outrageous herself.

“I can get about in an unexpected way because, as you know, birds can fly, even huge black ones,” shrugged Fanny, “and I want to get about very soon and take my sweet little boy with me.”

“I can’t do that and change myself into a bird!” protested Imageous, “I can’t even jump very high,” he added emphatically. “I’ve never been very good with heights.”

“I’m bigger and stronger than I look,” said Fanny softly, “and I can carry you quite easily. I could if you weighed twice as much as you do, but by the look of you they half-starved you at that Monastery where I left you for safe keeping. So you’re no great weight. You have the coins, don’t you?”

“What coins?” asked Imageous weakly.

“For the turnstile. There’s a turnstile that we’ll need coins for or we’ll not get through. Didn’t that senile old monk tell you? I left them with him to give you after you rang my neck. You’re good at that, ringing scrawny old necks!”

“I didn’t know you were my mother,” confessed Imageous, wondering how he could possibly have guessed anyway. “I wouldn’t have tried to strangle you if I’d known,” he added.

“Of course you didn’t know me, dearest, because I never told you and its not the sort of thing you could easily imagine,” soothed Fanny. “So we must depart soon. I meant to go the other day, but you were a silly boy and got arrested by the police before I could pick you up. What were you thinking, wearing that outrageous kilt and then taking a wee-wee in public? And it didn’t suit you, not one bit, though in my younger days I’d have looked a treat in it! And then there were your leather undies … they say they stank to heaven!”

“I’ve given that life up now, mother,” muttered Imageous, not liking most of the memories created by the past seventy years and bitterly aware how uncomfortable that codpiece had been for year after year. “The thing is, it’s all I knew and I didn’t have a single parent around to teach me different!”

“And that was my selfish fault,” sighed Fanny. “But we can change all that and for starters you can drop that daft name Imageous and become my own sweet Digory…” she smiled at him.

“Digory … Digory … Digory …. yes, it does sound a bit more like me,” whispered the newly renamed Digory.

“So what are we waiting for?” demanded Fanny. “I need to get to that desert sooner than soon, and have you with me. Your daddy’s there, and he wants to meet you before he pegs it.”

“My daddy?” Digory was more confused than a marble on a pin table.

“Yes, the sweet man,” sighed Fanny. “He’s basking in the sun but I’m afraid he’s on his last legs what with his age and the way time mistreats us poor mortals.”

“Is this desert on the island that was blown up sixty-odd years ago and still radiates nasty stuff if you go anywhere near it?” asked Enid with a frown. “I don’t want to talk out of turn, but isn’t it certain death to go near a nuclear test site within a thousand years of the idiocy of nuclear testing?”

“They’ve tried to clean it up, but there is a patch on it a few miles across where not much grows,” explained Fanny, “but then, nothing much ever grew there. It was always a desert, which is why my beau and I built our cute little hideaway on it all those years ago, before they even dreamed of testing bombs.. But to keep it isolated and off the average back-packer’s beaten track we encourage an exaggerated belief in the dangers of going there. After all, it does belong to us and we can say what we like about it and who’s to gainsay us?”

“Not even you could fly all that way!” scoffed Bertie, a little peeved now that Digory was the centre of his mother’s attention.

“There are aeroplanes, dearest,” smiled Fanny. “We’re to fly to a much larger island and then I’ll fly from there. I love flapping my wings, you know, it’s almost as good as sex!”

“Mother!” exclaimed Digory, shocked.

“Oh, don’t be so Victorian,” laughed Fanny, “after all, it’s how all of us were conceived. I know you were. I was there and it was quite yummy!”

“Yummy?” asked Enid, “That’s an odd word to use.”

“You weren’t there and I was,” winked Fanny. “Now are we ready?”

“We would be, only you’re in a hospital bed and going nowhere until the doctors say you can,” said Alphonse, “and in this I think they know a lot better than an old woman who knows how to do daft things, like grow wings.”

“That’s right,” said a new voice just behind them. It was the doctor who had taken charge of Fanny and her pace-maker. “And I say you need rest before you do anything. After all, you are ninety and we want you to make ninety-one.”

“He’s right, Fanny,” advised Alphonse.

“Tiddle!” snapped the patient, and before any of them could say tiddly-poo she started, before their confused eyes, morphing into a gigantic black bird with a stupendous beak.

“Come on, my sweet baby boy!” she aid in the modulated masculine tones she used for her avian life, “come to mummy and off we’ll go!”

And the ex-monk who hadn’t a clue what was going on felt himself being lifted bodily and plonked with no proper ceremony on the feathery back of what he could only think of as a monster and then, with a slow but scary rhythm, two gigantic wings flapped and he, with great majesty, soared until his head was not far short of the ceiling while his mother sought the wild freedom outside the hospital walls.

“Help…” he cried, but there was nobody anywhere near who had the faintest idea how to go to his aid, and couldn’t have even if they got one.

A large plate-glass window shattered, and he closed his eyes so that he couldn’t see what was what, and he kept them shut while cool summer air ruffled his hair and the unbelievably gigantic wings on both sides of him beat a beautiful rhythm in the blue skies above Brumpton.

TO BE CONTINUED…

© Peter Rogerson 16.02.17

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…

THE BLASTED DESERT Chapter Twenty-one

1 Mar

21. THE PACEMAKER

From their position not so high above it, the four in the helicopter watched as the ambulance pulled up in a bay near the A&E department of Brumpton Hospital. It was still summer, there was a fair at Swanspottle that was proving very popular so there were few patients needing care and attention. After a great deal of fussing and exaggerated rushing the patient was pushed on a trolley straight through the ultra-modern swing doors and into the hospital.

This was seen by the airborne quartet, hovering far too close for anyone’s comfort, and Enid decided to land. She might have chosen the clearly-marked landing pad on the roof, but she turned to the other three, smiled that warm smile of hers, the sort that assured everyone that besides good natural-looking teeth and luscious lips she must surely have perfect legs, and said,

“I think the car-park because it’s all right being on the roof, but how does one find one’s way down to reception?”

It was, thought Imageous, a good question.

“I know the way,” volunteered Alphonse.

“Of course you do, but you’re only a surgeon and might forget the way,” almost chided Enid. “After all, you sometimes can’t find your willy when you want a wee until you’ve wet yourself! No, I’ll park down there,” and she pointed into the car-park.

There were a lot of spaces free of cars in the car-park and Enid landed across four of them before stopping the engine and providing them all with a very welcome sudden silence.

“That’s better, Mother,” sighed Bertie.

“This is going to cost,” she said, indicating the parking-prices board. “You’d think it would be free to worried relatives in pursuit of an elderly lady who might well be dead, wouldn’t you? But no, they want to drag every penny out of you.”

“Hey!” called an angry voice from a small attendants box, the sort the rain would blow into if it chose to be a wet day, “you can’t put that thing there!”

“I have, darling,” smiled Enid as she climbed down from the pilot’s seat and exposed far too much thigh for the attendant’s good. “We’ve followed an ambulance and won’t be two twitches of a mouse’s tail. It’s a genuine emergency and you look such a sweet soul. Be a darling and keep an eye on her and there’ll be a reward for you when we come out…”

The attendant stared at the acreage of exposed thigh, patted his own chest and then replied, contrary to his every instinct, “that’s all right, madam, I see your point,” in a quavery sort of voice that suggested he’d be best seeking medical help before something really unpleasant and possibly terminal happened to him.

Enid gave him a cheery smile and led the way through a revolving door into reception.

“We’ve followed an ambulance,” she purred at the receptionist, who was a bitter old crone in her mid thirties with four kids and an abusive husband and not a kind word to say for anyone. Life can teach some people tough lessons, don’t you think…?

But Enid’s purring was enough to soften the receptionist until she was no harder than granite, so she pointed to a sign that read EMERGENCIES before turning away for fear of melting.

“Come on,” almost chirruped Enid, and she led the way through the door and onto a long corridor. Their progress had been so swift that they could see two paramedics pushing a trolley along at what looked to be the other end of the corridor, and the faint female urging “faster lads before I croak it” from its passenger.

“She’s alive,” whispered Enid, “but it might be best not to shock her too suddenly. After all, she’s not seen her son in seventy years and might find recognising him a tad difficult.”

“I know that voice!” squawked the trolley. “Is that you, Enid, my dear? Are you still on the game? I wish I was…”

“She’s got good hearing,” mumbled Bertie.

“It comes from a life on my back with my legs in the air!” cackled the trolley.

“Now, Fanny, that’s enough of that sort of talk! You’ll give us professionals a bad name!” reproved Enid.

“Is that you, mummy?” called Imageous, his voice collapsing into little more than a whisper as emotion grabbed him by the testicles and twisted them.

“My darling boy? My little angel in his short pants and twinkling eyes and a wee willy winkie? The bosom of my agony and creator of my lonely years? The razors of my talons…” replied a startled trolley. “Where have you been all my life, sweet Iggy?”

“Iggy?” croaked Imageous, “Why Iggy?”

“Because that’s your name, sweet breath of my bosom and candle of my wax! And I’m so sorry, but when it came to registering your birth I was stammering with the cold and not being helped by a beau who kept tickling my fancy, so I couldn’t quite say Digory before the overworked and underpaid woman in the register office had written Iggy. I’m sorry, Iggy, but it would be quite wrong for me to call you Digory now after all these years, don’t you think..?”

By this time they had managed to catch up with the trolley which still seemed to be at the other end of a very long corridor that somehow managed to stretch apparently endlessly in front of them.

“Where are they taking you, Fanny?” asked Enid. “We’re visitors, but I’m afraid I parked a bit awkwardly.”

“You tell her, Buster,” motioned Imageous’ prostrate mother to one of the two men anxiously pushing her along.

“We’re on our way to the cardiac department,” replied the paramedic. “She must have had a heart attack, or something like it, because she was dead till my mate here thumped her chest a bit.”

“Set me pacemaker going again,” croaked Fanny, “the battery must have got disconnected and the thing stopped when I heard you were coming to see me.”

“Who told you?” demanded Fanny, “we made our minds up on the spur of the moment and didn’t tell a soul. So how can you have known?”

“Cardiacs,” announced the paramedic before she could answer, and he turned to the four visitors, “and this is as far as you come until we tell you how she is,” he added.

“They’ll probably fit a new battery,” squawked Fanny. “And then I’ll be right as rain.”

I recognise that squawk, thought Imageous, stopping dead in his tracks, I’ve heard it before…”

TO BE CONTINUED…

© Peter Rogerson 14.02.17

THE BLASTED DESERT Chapter Twenty

28 Feb

20. THE CHASE

“Does that mean…” stammered Imageous, “Does that mean that my mother’s dead before I’ve had chance to say goodbye, it’s been nice to know you and thanks for all the cabbage stew?”

“It looks like it,” confirmed Bertie, “and I’m sorry, old chum. But she was getting on a bit, you know, and I dared say she could have led a healthier life, not spending so much of it on her back, I mean…”

“Stop talking like that!” snapped Enid, “it’s unkind and not worthy of you and, incidentally, not true. She was a consummate professional and always took precautions. And, what’s more, we don’t know that she’s actually dead, do we? That paramedic said he was going to thump her chest, which means massage her heart, and they wouldn’t have poked so many pretty plastic pipes down the throat of a corpse, would they?”

“So she might not be dead?” asked Imageous, a tear forming in the corner of one eye. “Then I suppose I’d better follow her. Let me go, Enid, and I think I can catch them up if I try to run.”

“You’ve never run in your life,” scoffed Bertie, “you can barely walk,” he added.

“I need my mummy!” Imageous almost shouted, “there are things that need to be said, like what had I done to be punished by living a life dedicated to cabbage stew?”

“It wasn’t that bad,” grunted Bertie, “if you sprinkled enough pepper on it.”

“But I must try…” wept Imageous.

“Don’t be so ignorantly daft!” snapped Bertie’s Mother. “You’ll not stand a chance once it gets its siren going and blue lights flashing fir to outshine the sun! Get aboard my helicopter and we’ll find that ambulance and follow it in the air! I love a bit of low-level navigation. Now come on and step on it or we’ll be too late!”

They did as she told for two reasons. Firstly, they could see the logic of following the ambulance even if it’s only passenger was a lifeless corpse and secondly her voice had the kind of authority that demanded instant obedience, or else…

“This is going to be a tight fit,” hissed Enid as she coaxed the helicopter into life, “and one puff of wind from the wrong direction could send us crashing into the lounge bar of the pub ready to order our pints and one puff the other way and we’ll mash half the fairground into shreds!”

“Just be careful,” muttered Alphonse, “I’m too young to die and there are loads of surgical procedures I’ve got to do before the grim reaper claims me. And I’ve always dreamed of being the first surgeon to operate on his own prostate!”

“There’s nothing wrong with it that a bit of lust won’t cure,” Enid told him.

“If you say so,” he replied, grumpily.

“Then keep still all of you,” commanded Enid, and with a glorious majesty she lifted the helicopter slowly into the air, its blades whistling mere feet away from the pub wall and one of them even whipped Thomas the Greek’s greasy hat from his head and launched it across the fairground and into a nearby field where it landed on the head of an inquisitive rabbit. To passers by fortunate enough to be out of range of its downdraught the sight might well have been almost glorious, but to those closer than that it was terrifying.

Once she had steered the vehicle high enough she made for the road down which the ambulance was vanishing at breakneck speed, its siren wailing and its flashing blue lights, as she had suggested, outshining the sun, which chose that moment to slip behind a cloud.

“Gotya!” she whooped, and with her undercarriage dangerously close to terra firma she soon caught up with her target.

“This is it!” she laughed, “I knew we could do it!”

“Aren’t we dangerously low?” suggested Bertie, pale when he saw the taller street lamps flashing past his window and the odd telegraph pole threatening to get tangled with the helicopter’s wheels.

“We’re okay!” smiled Enid, “now be calm and quiet while I concentrate on what we’ve got to do.”

Meanwhile, in the ambulance in front of them there was a war being waged between an old woman whose heart thought it was time to pack up and the paramedic who wasn’t driving.

“Can’t you go any faster?” he shouted towards the front of the vehicle.

“I can try,” came the laconic reply, and an expert might have detected a minuscule increase in its speed. But it was roaring along flat out anyway and the rest of the traffic was having to lurch to one side or the other to allow it to pass.

“This is fun,” grinned the driver, “yahoo!”

“Now for a bit of chest pummelling!” announced the caring paramedic, and he proceeded to batter away at his patient in a way that might best be described as skilful until she coughed, spluttered, spat at him and opened her eyes.

“I used to charge highly for this kind of fun,” she told him weakly, “and if you’re unlucky I might make you pay! What’s that blasted noise?”

“Let me look,” replied the paramedic, surprised at the sudden consciousness of a patient he’d been pretty sure was dead.

He opened the back door of the vehicle and peeped out. Almost blocking his view and not so many feet above them was a roaring helicopter, its downdraught causing all manner of untidy litter, soft-drink cans, crisp packets and dog turds carelessly cast away in small plastic bags to hurtle into the air and scatter everywhere, almost blotting out what remained of the daylight.

“Shut that door!” shouted patient in the kind of voice that suggested she shouldn’t really be a patient after all. “And come and tap my chest again if you want. I quite enjoyed that. It reminded me of the good old days when Bishop Archibold reckoned it was the best thing he ever did, and he was a right one, was the Bishop.”

“Who’s Bishop Archibold?” asked a shocked paramedic.

“Oh, he was a naughty boy when he wasn’t wearing his mitre!” grinned the patient, actually struggling to sit up. “He had a weird belief that it was his hat that made him a bishop, and without it he could do whatever he liked, especially when it came to nooky with a professional lady! I was his favourite whore, you know, and I quite enjoyed his company because he always paid in silver. You know, goblets, candle-sticks, platters, even the odd cup and saucer, and it was nothing cheap like electro-plated rubbish. Solid silver, that was his currency.”

“An archbishop?” gasped the paramedic.

“Quite so. Though I suppose my favourite was the newspaper magnate because he liked it rough!” giggled the elderly woman. “And I was always willing to oblige,” she added sweetly. “Aren’t we at that hospital yet?”

© Peter Rogerson 13.02.17

THE BLASTED DESERT Chapter Nineteen

27 Feb

19. JUST TOO LATE?

Before Imageous and his three companions arrive at Swanspottle and get on with their lives, let me provide the reader with a little history of the place. A few miles from the larger town of Brumpton and tucked tidily in the country, Swanspottle consists almost entirely of a pub, a church and a single row of cottages together with open countryside. It along that single row of coattages that one Griselda Entwhistle lives, but her stories are told elsewhere.

The pub, The Crown and Anchor is run by Thomas the Greek (who has never been Greek), a landlord who cares for the health of his best customers by diluting his draught beer in order to a) make it less toxic and b) increase his profits. Whether he achieves a) is uncertain, but he certainly manages to do b). It has also been noted that his standards of hygiene are, to be generous, filthy.

The pub has a large car-park with room for more cars than are ever likely to call at the place, and in order to further enhance his profit margin Thomas the Greek is perfectly happy to hire most of it out to all comers as long as they can afford his charges.

Which all goes to illustrate that when he’d let a travelling fairground hire it there was precious little room for customers to park and even less for Enid and her helicopter to find a cosy spot to land.

“There’s a spot. I think I can squeeze in. Just about.” she murmured, looking down as carefully as she could whilst Alphonse massaged her knee and as high up her thigh as propriety allowed. “Best be careful, though, there’s an ambulance just round the corner and I don’t think it’s there to rescue anyone scalped by my rotor-blades! So let’s squeeze in!”

“And I can squeeze in just here,” he perved, grinning in a most unmedical way.

“Now don’t forget you’re a doctor!” she reproved, “and let me concentrate or we’ll all end up as sausage meat.”

Enid eased the helicopter down towards a corner of the fairground. The down-draft from its blades created havoc on the Throw a Dart and Win a Teddy stall, and the toddler’s train was derailed on a tight corner. But downwards she eased her great metal bird until it had settled onto tarmac with only a few feet separating it from the Crown and Anchor wall and even less from the Ghost Train.

Thomas the Greek appeared in the doorway., his hands on his waist and rage on his face. He didn’t like the noise and the way the descending helicopter had sent waves of air-born dust though the door and into his already dusty lounge bar and he didn’t like the way that potential customers had been halted on their way to the inside of his pub out of a mixture of curiosity and fear and had consequently stayed on the outside, staring.

“What are you doing putting that thing there?” he bellowed, and Enid climbed out of the pilot seat, exposing far too much of her delicious legs and a patch of glimmering white silk as she did so. I doubt she did that deliberately, but bearing in mind her long history as a fallen woman it’s highly probable that she did. Either way, Thomas the Greek needed to use a greasy towel, the one he used for drying drinking glasses, to cover his embarrassment, and that barely proved sufficient when he remembered he’d left his flies undone.

“What a charming little pub,” enthused Enid.

“I don’t like it,” almost stammered Imageous as he put his second foot onto terra firma and breathed a sigh of relief.

“I’ll have a pint,” declared Bertie, who had almost recovered from his years as a novice at the old Monastery, where alcohol was unknown, as were all stimulants with the exception of prayer.

“Not too quick, my boy,” snarled Alphonse, “we’ve come here for a purpose and when that’s over and done with we’ll all have a hearty drink before Enid pilots us back home.”

“I think I can see something that might interest Imageous,” said Enid, “Look over there: at that tempting looking little stall with its mountain of fluffy toys as prizes all waiting to be won!”

“They’re fluffy ducks,” muttered the thirsty Bernie.

“And what does the sign say?” asked Enid, “surely that rings a great big bell inside your head?”

Imageous tried to focus his eyes, but unknown to him he was a little long-sighted and hadn’t seen anything in the distance properly since his teens. He’d grown up with the handicap and because he’d been cloistered in an unholy building with virtually no access to the outside world (with the exception of its rather large cabbage patch, where he was obliged to toil in summer and winter alike) he’d not really been greatly handicapped, though it may partly explain his earlier misunderstanding of helicopters.

“It says HOOK A DESERT DUCK” read Alphonse, who had twenty/twenty vision on account of his expensive spectacles and an intimate knowledge of his optician and some of her delightful ways.

“And I know who runs the hook a duck stall in this fair,” declared Bertie’s Mother, pushing her ample chest forwards. “ I think I told you, Imageous, didn’t I?”

“My mother?” asked Imageous, nervously.

“The very same! And before we go and greet her I’d better warn you. She’s not your average fairground operative because she’s a very wealthy woman and doesn’t need a penny for her labours. She does it all for fun.”

“That’s daft, if you ask me,” put in Bertie, “I mean, standing out here in all weathers come rain or shine when she doesn’t have to.

“You’ll find out.” Enid’s eyes were twinkling. “It’s years since I saw her but I hear she’s hardly changed even though she does have an elderly gentleman as a son…”

“I never thought this moment would come…” sighed Imageous “To meet mummy for the first time, and at my age too!”

“Don’t be too hasty!” almost shouted Alphonse, grabbing Imageous by one arm and pulling him back. “Look!”

And the son of the mother stared towards the hook a duck stall as two paramedics, purposeful and almost running as if to catch the dead, and carrying a stretcher between them, pushed their way through the thong towards that very stall.

“Quick!” one shouted, “the old lady’s flat-lining! Her croaky old heart’s stopped it’s pounding! She’s an ex-stall-holder, may her God bless her!”

“Let’s het her and pound some life back into her!” shouted his colleague, “I love that bit, pounding chests!”

And the little group of four watched as an obviously very old and possibly very dead woman was lain, as carefully as if she’d been alive and kicking, onto the stretcher, and carried slowly and with a certain majesty off, towards an ambulance.

“Oh, blast it!” croaked Enid sadly.

TO BE CONTINUED…

© Peter Rogerson 12.02.17