3-way Simple Minds vs Art of Noise vs Frankie Goes to Hollywood mash-up…
Homer and Carvery haul themselves up the sides of the flying rickshaw to perch on the back of our passenger seat, on top of those other lashed-down, struggling rolled-up rugs. A few of them give indignant grunts or squeaks, as the two plonk themselves down heartily.
I immediately flinch, as Carvery’s knees clamp around my shoulders.
“No seatbelts,” he excuses himself. “Maybe I should hold onto your hair as well.”
I try to make myself as small and inaccessible as I can, on the padded leather bench.
“Did you get bitten?” I ask, although it’s not the first thing on my mind. Damn my traitorous hormones again…!
And he spits out what turns out to be a ragged gray ear, right onto my lap.
“I can imagine why not,” I mutter, trying to shake off the piece of discarded zombie.
Any undead saliva meeting Carvery Slaughter would only make his bloodstream cleaner, for one thing…
Homer – our transvestite exotic zombie dancer – is looking very pleased with himself, fluffing up his remaining ostrich-feathers. I feel as though some sort of artistic award or tribute is due for his life-saving performance just now, and hand him the bouquet of dead flowers, which had found me as we flew over the square. He is unashamedly thrilled, simpering dreadfully and fanning his own face with his free hand, as if overcome with emotion. Bless him…
We pass through early-morning ribbons of cloud, the harnessed flying carpet skilfully directed by our strange pilot, Mr. Justin Time. He is quietly focused on his task, but at one point raises an arm and waves.
Stretching my neck to see over the side, past Ace Bumgang, I just catch a glimpse of another flying shape in the distance, heading back the way we came – but I can’t make out what it is.
Ace suddenly turns in his seat, and punches Carvery on the quadricep.
“That’s for shooting me,” he says, still nursing the nick in his arm, licking the blood off.
“I was aiming for Sarah,” Carvery grins. “Sorry, dude.”
“We are almost there,” Crispin interrupts, his creaking zombie voice a balm to my suppressed anger, as usual. “The Six a.m. Lounge is often quite busy, and some of its denizens and regular clientele are the private sort, who may be suspicious of strangers. We must proceed with caution.”
My heart sinks. So it doesn’t sound like we’re back at Crispin’s brownsign mansion yet…
As we dip below the clouds, the sun disappears, and we find ourselves skimming over darkened, rain-soaked streets. Not the dry dusty sandstone of the Five a.m. Lounge – and less architecturally magnificent, consisting of a higgledy-piggledy of corrugated iron shacks, strange tenements, rainbow-illuminated storefronts, and many small temples of differing size and denomination. Ordinary rickshaws bob along the muddy cobbles, and every street seems to feature rows of bunting-festooned market-stalls, right on the doorsteps of the regular shops, businesses and houses. People just seem to exist right on top of one another here…
Scrawny dogs and tiny children with pot-bellies wander around loose, unattended. As I stare in horror, I notice a small boy with his mongrel terrier tethered on a piece of string, both happily pooping in the gutter.
It’s like something off Rough Guides Uncut…
“That is our destination.” Crispin points, and on a hill overlooking the bizarre town, stretching from horizon to horizon on either side, a huge stone fort appears out of the low-lying, gunmetal-gray clouds. Every arrow-slot is illuminated, and the distant flying dots of other airborne vessels arrive and depart from its roof, in a stream of early-morning industriousness.
“Remember what I said about caution,” Crispin re-iterates, as we dip over the walls of the fort. “There are people here who would suck out your soul, and rape it in front of you.”
“Cool,” says Carvery. “Get to put my feet up and watch for once.”
“Yeah,” Ace agrees, grudgingly. “Wouldn’t be the first time I got sperm-jacked in my sleep.”
“It’d be all right for Sarah.” Carvery scruffs my long hair, which immediately tries to stand perpendicular, in shock. “She doesn’t have a soul. They’d be poking around hopelessly lost in there for ever. Like chucking a toothpick down the Thames.”
“I imagine it’s somewhat like finding out some weirdo has whacked off while reading my diary!” I bristle, meaningfully.
“Sarah, it’d be like wanking on my Nan’s shopping list,” Carvery sighs, shaking his head. “Even my taxation accounts are sexier than your diary.”
The rickshaw comes to a bumpy halt on an illuminated runway, on the roof of the fort. We seem to be in a queue of similar arrivals. Helmeted guards are moving along the flanks, speaking to drivers, and scratching notes on slate tablets.
“Identification?” the approaching guard says to Justin Time, peering at us out of the corner of his faceplate.
“Tell your mother, she needs to move her stuff out of my brother’s caravan!” says Justin.
Er – not the way I was ever taught to speak to men in uniform. We all listen, in deathly silence.
“What have you brought today?” the official continues benignly, apparently immune to our pilot’s Tourette’s Syndrome.
We all let out our trapped breath.
“I want the bounty on these rugs,” snaps Justin, slapping one of the rolls of carpet behind him, which squeals for pity. “The ones that those slave boys were stealing to impress rich girls with. I have a dozen of them to return.”
“And your passengers?” the guard continues. “Identification?”
“You don’t need to see their identification,” Justin Time scoffs. “These aren’t the virgins you’re looking for.”
My heart seems to contract to the size of a hazelnut, in fear. Not again…
“Ah – Mr. Dry!” the guard suddenly exclaims, and pushes up his faceplate, greeting Crispin with a much less intimidating smile. “I did not see you there… are these people all with you?”
Before Crispin can reply, a crack of thunder explodes overhead, followed by a prong of forked lightning. It strikes down a cluster of guards, scattering them like ten-pins.
“Uh-oh,” Mr. Time gulps. He reaches out and prods our own gawping guard, with his little rug-driving whip. “Hurry up, Dumb-Ass! Let us through – I am a businessman, you know!”
A second fork of lightning grounds itself on the roof of the fort, and remains there, sizzling and sending up sparks from the stonework.
The dark cloud above swirls around its vertical axis, in the same way the river had swirled earlier before revealing Atum the sea-god, in the Five a.m. Lounge…
But this time, no gigantic leviathan appears.
Instead, three bat-like shapes descend, like ragged firemen sliding down a station pole. They land with thunderclaps onto the roof, and fold their gauntleted arms, faces half-hidden behind chain-mail and coolie-hats.
At least a third larger than the average man here, they tower menacingly as they stand beside the lightning fork, which reflects off their armour in flashes of ultramarine light.
“Who are they?” I hiss.
“Bounty hunters,” Crispin whispers back.
The middle one takes one pace forward, his head turning slowly – until his sight rests on our little flying rickshaw.
“Justin Time…” the tall bounty-hunter rumbles, in a voice like the quaking of continents. “Thief…”
And the three newcomers all raise their arms, to point at our equally quaking driver.
I know immediately where I’ve seen those twinkly glinting blue lights before…
…They ALL have clockwork hands…
Fan edit tribute to ‘Big Trouble in Little China’ – Enjoy 🙂
More mindless mayhem: The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum
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