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Blood and stomach pills, cursed Ralph fruitily, swining his kine-fork and hip-hop-scotching after the retreating jam-jars. Udders akimbo, Flute crumbled in dismay as he watched their livelihood disappearing down the black maw of Nameless Unreason. Giggling like a Calcutta town-drain after a more than usually cheeky monsoon, Ralph leapt in after the diminishing damsons and raspberries wrong-way telescoping away, careless of the grasping ink-stained fingers of the deaf usurers who served as living teeth for Mr. Unreason's tombstone gob.
These gentlemen were dressed in loud check and sported bright orange wigs with centre-parting, that, with a slight tug at an intricate arrangement of saliva-thin strings hidden beneath their waistcoats, would perform pterodactyl jigs of remarkable artistry. They were Super-glued by the backs of their single-breasted tweed jackets (leather elbow patches optional) to the upper and lower palates of the Nameless One and were intended to serve as a source of light comic relief to those unfortunate enough to be caught in the vicinity of the great and greedy Gape of No Hope. Proof of their efficacy, they believed, was provided by Ralph's otherwise uncalled-for titters and they continued their work feeling justified and absolved.
Flute , paralysed once more by his own all-consuming indecision, did absolutely nothing. However, the ground beneath his hooves was beginning to show signs of reluctance, so with a mixture of bovine hell-for-leather and blind panic, he too hurled himself into the tentacled tunnel of Mr. U.'s fretwork set.
A fall, tumble and quick-rinse later, they found themselves beJonah'd in a large and dusty attic containing the mouldering detritus of countless millennia. Clearly the place had not seen benefit of Squeegee or J-cloth for many a long year. Too dark to distinguish any but the largest of the monoliths around them, and believing themselves to be the sole sentient occupants, they immediately fell asleep.
Of course they weren't really alone, and when they awoke they found that they were now minus customized Fedoras (particularly difficult to replace in Flute 's case), digital watches and nearly all of their already rapidly-diminished stock of self-esteem. With what was left of the latter, they took a long, hard look at the situation, at each other, and then without discussion went straight back to sleep muttering strange words without vowels in an attempt to ward off any further intrusions into their collective unconscious.
Sleep came easily once more after the groping caresses of the merry money-lenders and when they next awoke, they saw in the glooming dawn that there were a series of grimy windows set into gable ends around the octohedral attic walls. Poked into wakefulness by the motey beams filtering through the deep-set glazzies staring in at them, Ralph took his kine-fork and scrawled a crude pentagram, a double circle and a series of arcane hieroglyphs around where they lay. They could now just about make out, scattered around the edges of the attic floor, and already gathering fan-clubs of friendly dust-balls, some of their prized jars of " Flute 's Original Olde Worlde Mulberry Preserve". All was not lost!
Befuddlement their only guide, they wondered who should be the first to set out across the now strangely-expanding attic floor. Though the jam-jars that were scattered amongst the fallen timbers and riddly rafters seemed not to have moved between first sighting and time to make decisions, it was undeniable that the distance between them was growing alarmingly. Ralph , always the dynamo, gave Flute 's haunches a heart-bursting lurch and Flute found himself outside the cryptic circle drawn in the dust.
He knew Ralph too well to expect anything but a rather frosty welcome should he venture back into the safety of the frog-zone, so he ambled, innocent as a house-brick, over towards the nearest of the hermetically-sealed fly-traps that provided them with both sustenance and the means for keeping the shiny black suits in the upper world at bay.
Ralph chortled giddily at the sight of Flute attempting to tap-dance his way around the barbed-wire cattle-grids that even now were appearing patchwork quilt all over the floor like demented person-holes avenging a life-time of swallowing the treacle of urban rot and animal waste. Finally Flute found himself in the lee of a gnarled and ancient rafter that stretched from attic floor, up the forty-five degree wall, along the ever-more-extensive ceiling, and back down the one of the opposite walls (although it was hard to decide which one). It then became a sort of glorified skirting-board, evidently working on a freelance basis, as it was obvious that certain sections of the octagonal attic were unwilling to fork out its perhaps unreasonable tariffs. It was for this reason, Ralph assumed, that it did not stick close to the wall at all points but rather, meandered, attaching itself wherever it saw a profitable deal to be made, but spurning those whom it considered beneath its dignity and, even worse, un creditworthy. Perhaps we can do business with these people", mused Ralph , pondering on exchange rates, regretting the loss of his digital watch-calculator, and ignoring completely Flute 's hysterical bellows.
Who meanwhile, had been attempting to trap a number of the cowering jam-jars, who were receiving no back-up at all from their supposed friends of the floorboards. He had, however, managed to disturb one of the thieves in the night who at that very moment had been puzzling over the feathered head-gear and blinking symbols in the plastic and steel Casio of which they had relieved Ralph and Flute earlier. The puny bag of self-esteem had gone straight out the window. Even they could gauge its worthlessness. Distraught and furious at this unprecedented invasion of its personal space, it latched itself onto Flute 's udders with all the impotent rage of a 60-a-day Chihuahua in its third day of going smokeless.
Flute , unaware of the distress he had caused, felt only the intense burning of a sleepily-forgotten ciggy sand-blasting its way through the old middle and index. A side-swipe of milky-soft pink flab dislodged Flute 's attacker, but not before his presence had been detected by the overgrown quadruped. Already enraged beyond belief by the recalcitrant preserves, Flute stared around in vague and vitriolic bemusement, laser-beaming unfocused through the gloom for the cause of his agony.
Torn between, one, allowing the fruit-jars to escape further into the dusty clefts and crannies of the jigsaw ceiling, now labyrinthine with beams and rafters appearing and disappearing from view with a nonchalance that left him agape with speechless horror, and, two, wreaking a sadistic and gory revenge upon his minimus tormentor, he bellowed to Ralph to get the fuck out of his pathetic little circle and get stuck in. Ralph , ever the gentleman, declined Flute 's kind offer, but did begin to perform what he deemed to be a suitably esoteric Morris-dance, intended to pacify and perhaps even win over the minute denizens of their new lodgings.
Flute gazed behemothed through the bright and tangly. Far, far below, a lawn (extensive), an old house (expensive), a maze (expansive). In the maze, a girl. She, dressed as for safari, treading gingerly over invisible eggshells, whose eldritch squeals reached Flute 's hairy bat-likes even at this distance. He looked back and could just make out Ralph's stunted contortions. He could also make out that a couple of the monolith shapes that they had felt on first landing and then ignored were scraping leviathan paths towards Ralph's frenetic gesticulations. Seen from the back, they looked like nothing more than two towers of old cardboard boxes, stacked unsteadily four or five high, the topmost box being somewhat larger than those below. Dusty, of course, and wobbly, they actually seemed to be responding in some obscure and papery way to Ralph's shamanistic windmilling. Flute knew with the instinct born of living in a field that these oversized crates of cornflakes were Up To No Good and gathering legs, wits and crucifixes together started back towards where Ralph , divinely unaware, continued his Danger Danger Will Robinson robot impersonations.
But it seemed that Ralph had already intuited the approaching threat and he dropped two of his arms to the floor as if in peace while segue-ing into an old Fred Astaire number he learned as a whelp in the Greta Garbo Home for Wayward Boys and Girls. He could see what Flute couldn't see, namely, viz., and to whit, that the piles of cardboard were in fact full size Grandfather clocks, bearing faces of evil and bad intent. The pendulum doors were flapping open and through the gaps thus discovered, he could discern a fleshy membrane stretched from top to bottom and side to side, tight as a drum almost, save for the stick insect scrabblings still disturbing its surface. Ralph also knew that somehow these creatures trapped thus were eager to escape, but that such freedom would bode no good for either him, Flute or the rest of the known universe in general; not that either of them cared very much for that.
Meanwhile, down below .....
Stepping gingerly over the egg-shell scrotae, Pamela Cholmondley-Charnelhouse wrinkled her elegant button nose. The pong was awful, even she had to admit, and she'd come up against some of the rottenest in her time. She raised her ankle-length safari skirt to avoid brushing against the increasingly tender buboes, now multiplying at a quite alarming rate. Her knee-length jungle boots had protected her thus far from the worst of the affects of the afterglow, but the soles were wearing thin and it could not be much longer before she found herself singing falsetto. The moon was setting now and she wondered vaguely how much further she had to go before she reached the centre of the maze.
The privet corridors seemed to be growing narrower and sticky star-shaped things fell onto her from the overhanging branches of the unkempt hedges. Pamela was getting impatient and tried to move more quickly but almost immediately found herself causing Stockhausen cacophonies of agonized squeaking from the still warm larvae underfoot. Once more she reverted to the sideways crab-tread scruttle that was the style least likely to provoke woeful moans piteous to the ear; and irritating in the extreme given her secret knowledge that the earthbound half-beings had no real feelings at all, merely a limited range of Pavlovesque responses to situations perceived of as being potentially painful. They were hideous indeed, and one's natural reaction was to stamp them out as thoroughly and as expeditiously as possible. After a few hundred years of being thus lawnmowered by any and every passing footfall, they had somehow learned, as a protective device, to resort to a shrill mewling whine, that, unbeknownst to them, set teeth a-quiver and nerve-ends, hair-trigger sensitive, scrambling for cover.
She could feel through the now blanket-thin soles of her boots every twig and pebble of the bits of pathway that remained clear, and cursed her father for having made this journey necessary. The first Cholmondley-Charnelhouse at Tankerton Hall had begun the maze some four centuries ago and it had become a family tradition for each new generation to add to it further. As each generation tried to outdo the previous in devising extensions of greater and greater complexity, the maze now covered some twenty square miles of the Tankerton estate and the baroque curlicues of the labyrinth as seen from the air were now in the main practically impenetrable beyond the first two or three turnings. Gardeners refused to enter at all now, citing legendary figures who had periodically set out to chart the vast web and vanished in the attempt. Pamela was one the few who had dared enter so far for over three generations and what she had discovered shocked her greatly. She had realised quickly when she first noticed the resemblance to the human voice in the pustules' cries, that what they were doing was merely imitating the death-cries of lost souls who must have wandered for weeks around the maze before succumbing to exhaustion.
Flute realised with the prescience of a two-time loser staring his last chance in the face that they were out of their depth. Marmalade evasion was one thing, battling the gastric juices of black bog itself was quite another. Head lowered and aged horns aiming amidships, he hurled himself at Ralph , by now quiescent, as rabbit before rattler. Leaping the few remaining cattle-grids with an agility that surprised even he, he reached the epicentre of the attic and tossed Ralph , trolley and all, onto his broad back. As the wheels slotted into position their twoness once more gave them a strength that individually they did not possess.
Like a mad milk-jug, he kicked his legs back and up aiming blind at the carton clocks' barometer phiz. With a rent and tear of latex, the two time-pieces disgorged their unholy tenants. The air filled with sounds without noise, shape with neither colour nor contour. The attic walls bulged, rafters retreated and windows blinked, blinked again and closed on the world outside. Pamela glanced back at the sudden commotion in the deserted tower at the far end of Tankerton House. Disused now, it had once housed the ancient abattoir that great-great Uncle Tankred had had built for the insane of the parish. The eggshells at her feet, now burning bare-foot and pleading for mercy, suddenly took on a life, a will of their own and started to head for the pulsating tower.
Inside the attic, Fluten Ralph whirled aghast, amazed at the results of the butterfly symmetry of their kamikaze hoovings. Inside its brain the Ralphenflute begazed the deadsquids' dance of freedom. Octopus giggles filled the few remaining airpockets in the belly of Nameless Unreason. The worst was done, the end had come.
If there was ever an awkward cuss, it was he. Never satisfied, never content with what the Utah brethren called "good living". he always wanted what he couldn't have.
"Wanna go to the disco!"
"Devil-spawn!" Whup! Whup! "Meditate on that, abomination of Sheba!"
As time went by, he grew tired of the whups and, never having understood who or what a sheba was, he decided to put an end to an intolerable situation by burning down the chapel while all the whuppers were inside.
His silent giggles made the Elders even more suspicious of the demon-seed incubus that had somehow infiltrated their community. And his mother such a good woman too!
Broad-hipped. and proud to bear the clan's offspring with nary a murmur, despite her sixteen continuous years of pregnancy. Nineteen new arrivals had passed through her holy portals during this time, and all save the one they named Pequod, (a name designed to inspire its bearer to go forth and hunt the white whale of sin and depravity), a credit to their fathers. The identity of Pequod's own father was, as with all her brood, not known, as it was the mother's sacred duty to submit to any of the Elders whenever they felt exalted by the Lord's call. Gossip, however, will always breed like moss in a society closed to the malign influence of cellular telephones and fax-machines - no brain-tumours here, thank you very much - and so the Elders would occasionally look askance at one another and secretly wonder.
The other women knew better. They knew that the father was not to be found amongst their own but had to have come from outside. Although this was an offence punishable by shunting to death, they were in reality envious and also happy for her. One at least had escaped, albeit briefly, from the inexpert gropings of the grey men in beards.
For eight years now the women had raised the Pequod creature and for eight years he had resisted every attempt to gain his confidence. With tabasco tongue, he hot-sauced his mothers, bringing boils of impotence to palates less hardened than his own. Physically there was nothing particularly striking about him, an average-looking eight year-old from any middle-American family snap-shot album (not that such things existed here of course). But the weight of her twenty-nine years lay heavily on Pequod's mother and she knew that she would have to get him away before he did something that would bring the wrath of the Elders upon him. And THEY never forgave, despite their talk of holy absolution. Their absolution came only through the bull-whip and the wired post at the bottom of the quarry. Better that he leave now, for despite his youth, she felt that he had had experience of this world gained in other lives prior to this one.
Her thoughts were interrupted by more commotion from outside - and Elders hated noise so!
"Whelp of Satan, you'll not live to regret this!"
Pequod's answer was inaudible, but it clearly drove the enraged Elder into a rabies-frenzy.
"To the post with the Hell-fiend!" he exploded, "We have been patient too long!"
She looked out from the doorway and saw that it was Oak, one of the milder-mannered of the Elders, who was fuming so. He had Pequod by the arm and was trying to drag him out of the village to the stone-pits beyond. Pequod was resisting only feebly, as if he no longer cared what happened to him. But his mother knew better and saw the danger signs in his steady gaze and firm step. She caught his eye for a second and SAW what he was seeing - the chapel aflame, the hysterical Elders trapped inside, screaming like heretics at an auto-da-fe.
Elder Oak was sweating now, his long robes tangled around his death-white legs as the child's strength began to tell. More faces appeared at doorways to watch the battle of wills between Pequod and Oak. As if a decision had suddenly been made, Pequod collapsed to the ground and allowed the Elder to drag him dead-weight corps-heavy along the dirt street. Jerking him inch by inch along the ground, as one would a disobedient dog, oak reached the perimeter of the stone settlement and was forced to stop to regain his breath. At the first sign of relaxation from the old man's knobbly fingers, Pequod sprang to life. Grabbing a flint from the road where he lay, he dug it deep into the back of Oak's mottled fist. So deep that the stone disappeared for a moment in the torn flesh and blood of the distraught ancient. Free now, Pequod glanced back at where his mother was standing, and ran.
No-one moved to help Oak. It was the Lord's will and if he was to be cured of his wound, then so be it. If not, there was nothing that any of them could do. Oak did even attempt to bind his wound and trudged back to the village square where Pequod had first raised his ire, black blood gushing, leaving a fly-speckled stream of bile in the dust behind him.
The women hid their faces so as not to see the Elder's shame, but Oak cared not for the sensibilities of brood-mares and went straight to the chapel to ring the meeting-bell. He would call together the young men of the community to seek out and hunt down the Hell-spawn. Hew would be brought back to face the justice of the clan, and this time there would be no escape. He rang the bell four times, four for the horsemen who would come to judge, The other Elders, although by now aware of the reason for the summons, bade their time to give Oak the opportunity to say his piece. Within fifteen minutes, all the Elders and the strongest of the Youngers were assembled in the chapel to hear the Pequod-being denounced.
Pequod, meanwhile, though he had run beyond the sight of the old man, had not run so far that he had not had time to return secretly. He watched as the men of the village came together in the wooden shack that served as their place of worship. He watched as the last in locked the door behind him to prevent their words escaping to the ears of the she-beasts. He smiled to himself a gay, childish smile as he contemplated his revenge. He had already prepared the faggots and tinder in preparation for this moment and quickly he began to drag them from their hiding-place and stack them around the windowless building. The ravings of the aggrieved Elders inside could what little noise he could not avoid making. He knew that once they started with their curses and wailing, they would not stop for at least an hour. The women, though they might see, would not dare to interfere with him. They believed in his power, encouraged in their belief by his own mother, who fed their superstition to protect him from their pointy fingers.
Twenty minutes later, the chapel was waist-high in dry twigs and brush and needed only the smallest spark to set it off. He listened carefully and heard that Oak was still bemoaning the unhappy fate that had befallen their village, to be the nest of vermin such as he. He smiled again his innocent smile, and taking flint from pocket, struck a spark that caught the nearest faggot instantly.
Some of the women had indeed seen what he was doing, but afeared of his eyes and his tongue they covered their eyes and hid indoors and prayed to their own private Gods that the end of the Elders would be slow and painful, trying to convince them selves that good could come from Evil.
For Pequod was evil. He was not an unsullied victim of age-old prejudice, but the real thing - the child of a stray demon. on holiday from Hades. he was begotten from his mother's sin and his sire's proud iniquity.
Back to the road that led out of the settlement (in fact there was only one road out in any case - and none that led in). Which explained how they remained cut off for so long. Pequod had vague memories of a cow called Oboe and decided to go forth and seek out this cobweb figure from a quite possibly non-existent future. The sharp taste of gooseberries came unbidden to his lips.
What he needed now was a packet of Salt'n'Vinegar crisps, with a bottle of Dandelion and Burdock to wash 'em down. For the road. Which lay before him, as broad and straight as his own mind was narrow and twisted. Looking back he could still see the e will o' the wisp smoke-signalling the recent barbecuing of the Elders. It all seemed so far away now. The sun burned his head and made welcome inroads into his hell-fire conscience. The roadside began to show signs of life after the sterility of the settlement, where flowers and wildlife were, to a man, of the stunted and sparse variety. He hurled a flinty sharpness at a vanishing bobtail and swatted and stamped upon a rather beautiful blue butterfly. had he had a shadow, it would surely have recoiled in puzzled dismay from its owner's baffled belligerence.
And so the five-foot towhead continued his way until the sun grew heavy and orange and, head drooping wearily, bow-tie askew, he headed southward for warmer climes. Still no hint of shelter or humanity to aid a lost , lonely child. Dark now, the moon green and pendulous as old man's nose, the wind playing Pele with the tumbleweed, that came out at him from the tenebrosity prickly and persistent. Several times he found them keeping him claustrophobic company, following behind and beside, then nipping in front to tangle feet and trip the unwary. Black nimbus threatening wet and misery were discernible over the distant mountains and the breeze blew chill. Still Pequod walked on, oblivious in his cloak of childish incomprehension, mind empty of feelings or ambition, beyond the jellyfish idea, bobbing around wet and wobbly in the Sargasso Sea of his brain, that if he could find the uddered ungulates that grazed on marmalade and madness, if he could trace the bovine behemoths of woodwind, somehow he could then exact his revenge and fulfil his terrestrial destiny. And maybe his father would love him again.
But that was for then and this was now. And the now was turning distinctly unpleasant. Wet was not the word for what Pequod was experiencing. Great Davy Jones, if this rain kept up, the jellyfish would be running out of his ears! Aware that, though his soul was forged of molten iron and tempered barbed wire spite, his body was yet that of a small human childling, and he scanned the greeny inkiness around for some form of suspended solidity that kept to a minimum the dampness beneath.
He recalled having seen by daylight boulders and cliffs at some distance from the road on either side. If he struck off the path right or left and left in a straight line, he would surely have to reach some sort of rocky niche, cleft or cranny in which to squeeze his spongey soakedness. Pointing chin along shoulder and turning body through the same degree-wise, he set out across the now-muddy desert towards the invisible foot-hills. Feet lead-heavy, little knees castanet-clacking, nose running and teeth knocking, he groped feely-finger blind through the velvet ice. To arrive stumble-foot at a rough wall of stone, perpendicular in the darkness and promising pronto relief. Pressing his stick-insect limbs against the slimy hardness of the cliff-face, he crept sideways crab-nervous along until he felt an indentation beneath his outstretched fingers. More than an indentation, his fingers felt metal and then wood, and as he got his whole body into the recess, he realized that he was huddled up against a door set into the rock. A door, a handle of intricate design, a turn and a breath of warmth and absence of wet. And collapse onto a floor of finest Axminster weave. Lifted into the air and placed on a rug before an open grate showing signs of recent conflagration, motherly cluckings in his ear.
"Well, dearie, you took your time but you got here in the end. I knew you wouldn't let us down."
Little Pequod too tired to wonder what she meant and too steamy drying-off cosy to speak, let her prattle on.
"Some of them says you's never leave, and others says you's already left. But we knew, didn't we, dearie ? We knew you's come bedraggle desperate one dark night a-scrabbling at us door. Lies down a tick, dearie, and tells us after what us'll do with them."
Behind the mumsy talk, Pequod could chittering and scratching, as of a great many small scaly creatures trapped inside a tambourine. Although he had no idea of where he was, or who his unseen mater might be, these sounds brought vague memories. Of releasing something from a wooden box and not being able to put it back. Though his terror on freeing it made him pray for nothing else. He felt a wooden spoon being pushed against his lips, and a thick meaty brew trickling into his mouth. A taste of blood and strawberries and more images began to firm. A dancing academy where business normally done beds was carried out in corridors and open-doored bathrooms. A tall, thin youth with a stab and a burnt-out bus. Was it then, now, or will be ?
Dreams of a tall tower and a maze with no centre.
Next day (?) he looks around. The old lady is not there now, but there is distinct smell of cooking and Pequod realizes how hungry he is. Not for meat or veg however, but for something sweeter and stickier. Something with lumps that dribbles and cloys and smells of heat and rot. With accompanying miasma of dreamy buzz and flutter.
Gotta move on - gets up and sees that the room in which he has slept is large, light and extremely well-furnished. The thick shagpile carpet supports a wonderland of tubular steel and chrome chairs and glass-topped tables. The grate is of gas-fired imitation log and pictures of the utmost contemporaneity adorn the red-flock wallpaper. The oak veneer table boasts ball-and-claw feet, spindle legs and a decorative medieval frieze around the top. On the shelf beneath he sees copies of "Amateur Homemaker" and "Five Hundred Cheap'n'Easy Ways To Improve Your Living Environment". Clearly the place was owned by a person of some refinement and Pequod felt abashed by the glimpse of his pudding-basin crop, caught in an ornate gilt frame mirror that hung between two matching Habitat prehensile wall-lamps. But he knew that when he ventured out into the world he would have to be the equal, nay, the superior, of people such as this. He would have to learn their ways the better to humiliate them with his own sophistication and command of the cutting edge of the very latest of the new.
There were various dark-blue velvet curtains around the walls, but whether they concealed doors or windows was not immediately apparent. He was unable to tell how he had entered the night before. though since the only light here was artificial, he could not tell if it was night or day not, or indeed how long he had in fact been here. There was a sudden commotion behind one of the curtains and the old lady came back into the room with a tray full of steaming tureens. It was time to get some answers.
"Good Morrow Aged She-Beast," he saluted her after the fashion of the settlement, though now that he saw more clearly, he could not yet confirm her humanity or otherwise, "I thank you for your aid, but would crave now informations regarding your presence in this rock and then safe passage hence to fulfil my destiny."
"My dearie, but we's are the little gent, aren't we ? And don't goes pulling an oldster's nethers with such question marks. 'Tis you's who will be informationing us and right soon afore they's gets out again. Eats and drinks first and then tells all you must over what's us to do now."
The wrinkled creature was obviously deranged and Pequod decided to play along for a while.
"All right then, mother. What do you want to know?"
"Why, what's to do with them in the box acourse. That's why you's come. We's bin waiting." "How d'you know I was going to come" "Acause you always do. Though I's not seen one as little's you so far. Norn one as didn't know what's they wuz doing. One of you always comes when they's about to get out. Can't hear them a-scratching and a -squeaking? You's got to put them back as it was you's let them out in the first place."
Pequod didn't like the sound of this at all. He hadn't run away just to find himself ordered about again by some skinny old crab-apple who was obviously just waiting for a taxi to rubber-bus country.
"OK Mother, I'll make sure they don't get out again. Which way's the door?" "Bain't you's hearing a word I's saying? You can't stop them getting out, you's got to put them back. They's getting out now. They's found the attic again and them's as is there don't know what they's doing. You's got to find the girl and she's lost too. Not you norn her's'll know what to do 'til you's in the attic. What's a soul to do now in this stinky rock. You's always known afore. Useless you's is to me and mine."
Pequod was getting bored now and was about to pour the steaming contents of one of the tureens on the old biddy's bonce, tear down the curtains (despite her immaculate taste in home furnishings) and find his own way out, when she twitched open the curved front of a mahogany roll-top desk and pushed him into it. "No time to lose", he could hear her screeching as he burrowed his way into the musty paperwork and old boxes of drawing pins towards the slit of grey at the back.
Having reached which, he tumbled, coughing and hawking, out of the boot of an up-ended '68 Austin Cambridge that was nose-down in vice-grip death-throes crushing machine-bound. Leaping to the ground as one more cultural icon bit the dust. With nary a glance at the row of forlorn-looking Morris Minors, Ford Capris and Cortinas queuing up for absolution, he sprinted out of the knacker's yard and ran straight on front of a number 13 Routemaster.
The big red bus carried Pequod forward on its radiator grill for several yards before the driver could activate the emergency air-brakes and stop. Club foot bandolier grined efficaciously through the twicket thick hadge. Oy veh, have you got the wrong vampire. The rocks, the stones, electric steel rubbed raw. He glinted peapod-eyed at the figures in white sticking tubes into his arms and up his nose. Rubber bodied dragged off the tarmac and placed in a red blue white flash now yes now no coffin. Somewhere on a different page, a voice called his name. Fade to black.
Day for night greenery surrounded him as he bobbed back to hellself. "Not all the tortoises were dead," whispered an angry voice urging action. Tomb-like sniggering echoed like bouncing butter and Pequod relaxed.
Blind vampires, eyes covered for the day, find and devour a sighted member of the clan.
Stink grinling-rot, mind heaving with gibbonesque grotesquerie, Pequod stared wall-eyed at the Christmas cracker jollity, sulphur-snap and paper hat agrinning around him. Grunting grampus-wise, the snowmen stuck snakes of serum into the boy's junkie-thin arms. "What do policemen eat for lunch ?" they queried, "How does an elephant get out of a tree ?" they insisted, "What lies at the bottom of the sea and shivers ?" they demanded, shrieking with hideous gaiety. Images of rubberized Spam and anxious leaf-straddling mammoths awaiting Autumn swirled through his battered bonce. "A nervous wreck !" he screamed hurling himself upright. As one, the snowmen turned and danced a happy dance, arms raised and hands shaking around the recovering boy, whose torso was now flapping up and down manically on the band, attempting to make that one last effort to rise and run.
Which he then did, lobster-sprawled on the floor and doorwards propelled by unseen feet connecting with back and buttocks. Through the pet-flap and into the corridor, staggering to knees and thus through Reception into the welcoming air outside. He was getting nearer he knew. He could smell it in the air, pungent as soiled nappies, it beckoned and enticed. He sniffed at pine-needles and breathed in the spoor of chocolate lambs. Still careening along on his knees, elbows pistoning and sweat flowing free temples tense with concentration, he headed for the outskirts of town.
Where unaware he was awaited and adored.
But with all that it was not a bad day, he had to admit. The lettuce snap of the early breeze-morn crisp. "Hey nonny-nonny," trilled the flowers and early rising bees, and the sun really DID have its hat on, by Golly. Oh Jesu, Joy what a febrile frenzy of fugacity. Hero sandwich ahoy and how!
Wolf-drip-blood-gobbet and Crikey; tugging hard at the lapels of his threadbare coat of Maya, he braced himself for the day ahead. It was true,one had to admit, that his life had not been all soda-pop and treacle lately, but the Great Wheel had turned yet another turn and that cycle was, he hoped, finally behind him.
The road was dry and crumbled, crumbled beneath his wayward feet, and the pavement before, welcoming yet impudent in its smug assumption that he would continue along its gnarled and fetid back. His shadow fell long behind him as he loin-girded his way forth into the rising conflagration now attached by only the slenderest of umbilicae to the grey-blacked thoroughfare below. "So much time, so little to do," he mused as he pendulumed his ever more cooperative limbs towards their destination.
He passed bus-shelters visigothed, adrift in banks their own granulated security glass and sighed at all the manifestations of the jungle run riot around him. Though what did he care really, mendacious old mythomaniac that he was. Incapable of living life for itself, he refused all outward signs and sought sub-texts where Marx himself would have seen only the remnants of last night's curried take-away.
Yes, what did he care ? It was all part of the teemy mildew rot of the urban Amazon, the spoor of the predator sniffed by the prey-to-be. Those who eat and those are eaten; he knew full well that he belonged on the latter category, but awaited his fate with a calm born of his awareness of his place in the hierarchy of the lower vertebrates. He would spend the greater part of his existence unseen, as now, and then suddenly, without warning, he would be spotted by one of the beasts with large mouths, evil creatures with eyes of stone and minds of suet. Ululatory relish would accompany their dinner of Jim's flesh, their blood-red air-wears later betraying scarce a sign of their recent repast as they leave his remains to the hyenas.
But not yet, not yet. Loose ends to tie up, unsavoury leftovers from a previous existence to be swept away and binned for all time.
And what better day than today to begin. First he had to visit his ex-wife, a handsome woman, though now somewhat decayed. Once they had been in love but now he found it difficult to reconcile the woman he was about to see with the girl he had fallen for so completely. People had to change he knew, but did the change have to be so dramatic, so brusque ? He still felt a twinge of affection for her at times but she had treated him with such disdain for so lone now, that he throttled such stirrings at birth and concentrated on her lies and betrayals instead. It had taken him years to realize what everyone else knew - that she had cuckolded him shamelessly whenever she had felt like it and then, when it had become so obvious that not even his love for her could blind him any longer, she had declared that it was of no importance, it was only natural, no-one was faithful anymore and what a fool he had been not to behave the same way. He felt a guilty twinge of satisfaction at the thought of her now less-than-attractive body forcing itself through the motions of love with a series of ever-less caring boy-friends.
But lawyers are no respecters of broken lives and shattered dreams, and the forms must be followed and papers signed, dissolving the years in the ink of courts and judges. The decree nisi was ready and this was the final affirmation of the failure of all his attempts to breathe back a soul into the dead cabbage that was their marriage. His boots smiled to themselves as they carried him to her office, where she was now an important executive in a large multi-national corporation, surrounded by flunkies and bright hard men who screamed confidence at him with a bland admonishment that was also an accusation of his own inability to partake of that world.
Snapping out of death-doom thoughts of "why couldn't she?" and "how could she?", he crossed the street warily. he was nearer now and even though there was nothing to fear, he found himself more and more reluctant to face the gleaming reminder of what might have been. Her smile burned a hole in his heart and her courteous familiarity, born of years of training in a job where negative thoughts are verboten, was even more painful because of its genuinely superficial sincerity, beneath which there was absolutely nothing but a hopeless yawn of meaningless chaos. He wanted to yell in their faces, Yes, but what do you really DO? Is this all you really are? Can't you see? They would have stared back at him in polite bemusement and said to themselves, "Poor guy, he just can't hack it," and forgotten him within seconds.
He thought of turning around and giving the whole show a miss but the black dog was snapping at his heels so chin held high and pigeon-chest broadening, shoulders forming a chevron of determination, entire body almost bending over backwards in its efforts to appear as tall and self-assured as the other inhabitants of this particular ant-hill, he plunged ahead, machete at the ready, eyes skinned and hand steady. He strode directly up the Bird of Paradise in the entrance, a blaze of pinks and reds and auburn crest. Claws aglitter as she sights one who does not belong, she gives City Boy the full benefit of her secretarial school training on how to deal with those 'who do not belong' and laser-beams her indulgence at him, amazed at her own restraint at not having the security guards gun him down n the spot. But City Boy has been here before and knows enough not to be impressed by this display of finery.
"I'm here to see Mrs. Horder. I have an appointment."
Without giving the startled cockatoo time to object, he marched over to the smoked glass lift shaft and tried to look busy and important, glaring angrily at his watch and pushing all its buttons like a man who lives in three different time zones at once. The Bird of P. decides he is harmless and goes back to glowering at new intruders to the Crystal Kingdom. The lift arrives, the doors slide open. Jim is gripped by panic as he finds himself face-to-face once more with the Stranger, that alter-ego who pursues him and condemns him at his moments of greatest weakness. Quickly, he looks away from the mirrored wall of the cabin and smooths his sweat-streaked hair, cut short for the summer months, but still dank and oppressive to his over-sensitive psyche.
Doors close and open and now he is on the twenty-sixth floor, and but yards away from spewing his guts.
Another burst of gaudy plumage sits guard before the inner sanctum, but this one, having been warned of his arrival by her mate below, greets him with professional ease and suggests that he "take a seat, Ms. Horder is in conference."
He wants to smoke but the mere thought of the cactus fumes at the back of his throat makes him cough and he waits quietly, sinking into the Finnish-designed easy chair, knowing that his trousers will rise to display chalk-white calf and that when she comes, she will be with one of the shiny men with creaseless suits, that he will have to struggle to get up and reach out to the large outstretched hand that will welcome to the place where the real money is made.
Things had seemed so simple just a couple of hours ago in the ice-cream dawn. He even started to doze a little as he waited, hoping that the 'conference' would be urgent and long and that perhaps he could come back another day. Unbidden, memories of better times came to mind and in the half-world mist between sleep and wakefulness he almost thought that the last three years hadn't happened and that when he opened his eyes, she would be there to greet him with that great big smile, where did she get so many teeth, and call him her love. But life can be cruel and he was awoken from his candy-coloured dreams by the sound of her voice, now harsh and strident, barking laughter at an obviously adoring colleague who was tripping over his own tongue in his desire to please and impress. Thank God that he no longer had to go through that performance any more, Jim thought, and then wished that he did.
"Hello, Jim," she said to him from on high,"Well, let's get this over with."
Without another word she led him into a small office to the side of the waiting-room, where she had the documents ready. She had signed already and there were large biro'd crosses where he was to place the final seals of failure on his first attempt ever to be a grown-up. One, two, three, and it was done.
"Well, that's that, then," she beamed briskly,"We can still be friends, can't we?" Though he found it hard to imagine what it might be that they would have in common now, "No, I don't think so," he murmured huskily, hoping to the last to extract some slight sign that she still remembered what they had once meant to each other. "Well, that's up to you," she countered, "You know where I am."
His mind sought desperately for some formula that would allow to leave the building with dignity, but as usual it floundered like an oil-drenched pelican, scrabbling up a seaweed rock of cliche. His mouth filled with saliva as he muttered what he hoped was a deep and meaningful "I'll see you around then", both of them fully aware that these days their worlds never collided.
Back to the Metropolis elevator and out past the Scarlet Tanager in reception, he tried to resist the temptation to light a cigarette, and failed. Hesitating outside the building only for the shadow of a second to give her a chance to come running down after him in flood of tears and remorse, he plunged back into the undergrowth.
Strangely though and slowly, he began to feel as if a great weight had been lifted from him. Hop, spring and a canter away from the Crystal Kingdom. Tentatively tweeting, birds of a more congenial mien reappear at his side. His first labour over and behind him, he begins, back bent but unbroken, the task of finding an acceptable level in which to grade this latest humiliation. Where was Jesu, Joy now ?, he demanded of his unruly boots. Wherefore your untoward smiles at the threshold of unreason ? His boots, superior in leather and spit, deny him all hope.
"Bugger you then," Jim grunted and stamped heavily on an old beer can. Just to show them who was boss.
Purged of former life responsibility, he now felt unexpectedly cheerful. Upper limbs bereft of fore-arms prod him in the side. But he had learned better over the years and studiously avoids making eye contact with the wizened children at his elbow . A pack of hairless maniacs with tattoo'd foreheads glowers past and, startled by this overlapping of his two lives, he decides to take refuge in a nearby 'English-style' pub; he has foresworn alcohol since the incident with the dog and the hosepipe, but still enjoys the pleasure of watching other brutalizing themselves.
His boots, however, had other ideas - now functioning on automatic pilot, they were the only things keeping him on the ground as the high noon sun poked needle fingers through the thicket. The boles of the trees were full of newspaper vendors waving lottery tickets at the passers-by and curious beetles-on-wheels darted around his legs brandishing wooden boxes full of brushes and wax. Trying to recapture the euphoria of his daybreak-manic composure, he headed for a local coffee-shop where everybody smoked unrepentantly.
He smiled at the surly waiter like an old accomplice. He had been coming here now, on and off, for over ten years, and this same waiter had served him nearly every time. There was not a hint of recognition in the crumpled cobweb above the black waistcoat. Jim loved it here. Customers and waiters treated each other with equal contempt, each recognizing their mutual need and loathing the symbiosis that made their existences interdependent.
"Coffee," he demanded and the waiter, old friend, turned his back and stalked off. had he heard ? Would he bring it ? If he did, would it be hot ? Dare he ask for a packet of cigarettes as well ? He pondered the role of the lumpenproletariat in a post-industrial service society a was glad he still lived in the feudal era.
Insects buzzed around his table complaining of crippled mothers and exorbitant doctors' bills. His coffee arrived, sugar-bags in the saucer, brown and luke-warm. He emptied both into the cup and tossed the violated sachets into the ashtray. He took a sip. The cup was half full of froth and was indeed only a degree or two above room temperature. He debated with himself whether to play the game and complain, but decided to get moving instead. Coffee gone in two large gulps, bill asked for, waited for and paid for with tip. (He always tipped when he got the type of service he expected) Swatting aside a singularly persistent ragamuffin with only half a pair of trousers between him and the vice squad, he took the town by storm once more.
As often happened these days, he seemed to have woken up in one country and be spending his day in another. At some point between entering the Crystal Kingdom and leaving it, the land of shattered bus shelters and swastika'd psychopaths had given way to a semi-world that shared many characteristics with the old but was also somehow a parody of it; things taken for granted in one were turned upside-down in the other. He straddled the two worlds as best he could, feeling at home in neither, trying to see the best on both.
He had decided to spend the afternoon in the park, having nothing better to do 'til the next day and set off at a tortoise pace. His mind imposed the dawn world onto the noon world and the result was a grotesque confluence of nineteen-fifties old with nineteen-nineties new. The trappings of a modern city were impressed upon the culture and populace of an Amazon Indian village. had he said feudal? Indigenous, by Jove, fresh from the garden of Eden, innocent as lambs were they, believing themselves to be part of the hurly-burly of twentieth century up'n'at'em, they were in fact dispossessed relics of a Paradise Lost, polluted almost beyond recognition by their own cupidity and tender ignorance.
He entered the Botanical Gardens and the city fell away behind him. There was a river of diesel and concrete, overflowing with rubber-footed pachyderms a scant hundred yards from where he stood, but here it was possible to ignore their screams and insults and wander alone through a small labyrinth of phallic cacti and friendly mahogany. The events of the morning had disturbed him and he could not help but think back, his memory padding hush-puppy soft down bosky paths of green-gloam nostalgia. Fluffy-bunny and owl-eyed, ganglions snaked and sparked as images of happier days snapped, crackled and bopped beneath his unresisting eyelids Past horrors softened in the gold-gauze rebirth of decade old reminiscence. Becoming increasingly disillusioned with the concept of linear time, feeling the past to be a physical reality waiting to trap him again, impotently desperate at his inability to escape the tedious repetition of his humdrum agonies, he suddenly found himself at the end of the Gardens and unable to proceed further.
He stared vacantly at the hedge before him. Prodding his limbs back into self-consciousness and turning slowly around in complete 360 degree circles, he became aware of a presence above his head. Looking up to the top of the privet, and half expecting to see black chaos staring down at him, he saw instead a human head, though of what sex it was not immediately apparent. Knowing the language of the birds and forest creatures that dwelt there, he took a deep breath and bellowed as loudly as his tar-blighted lungs would allow, "Unclean, Unclean" and made vigorous bell-shaking movements with both hands. White eyes gazed curiously at the strange man in the tattered coat and heavy boots, eyes that tried in vain to penetrate the meaning of the Vitus dance below. Never having met with one such as this before, she (for it was a she) felt neither fear nor indignation at this invasion of her personal space by windmilling scarecrows, but observed, patiently awaiting the next turn. Having exhausted his admittedly small repertoire of local wood-lore, Jim stopped his lepers' tango, stared back nonplussed, and, not for the first time in his life, wished he were somewhere else.
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