My mount gallops determinedly through the heat-haze and dust-devils, and gradually slows as the reassuring rainbow array of tents becomes clearer. The voices of stallholders and market-traders can be heard carrying over the barren sands.
But it is only a precursor of the backdrop. What I thought was the main encamped settlement, are merely the early birds, the eager beavers awaiting visitors to what I realise is a whole city inside the terracotta walls beyond. I can see plumes of fragrant smoke, hear the call of exotic captive wildlife, and the chanting of early-morning prayers from the minarets within. The scent of sandalwood and frankincense wafts by, on the arid desert air.
Maneless Camel-Eating Lions forgotten, I am entranced as my beast’s stride shortens to a less uncomfortable lope. Everything shines or gleams or sparkles. It’s like finding a multifaceted crystal prism boutique, in an oasis of coloured silks, in the middle of a nomad’s land.
The traders are as wrapped up against the sun’s glare as Crispin’s cousin, Asum ‘Sandy’ al Dj’eBraah. I can’t tell through their robes whether any of them are zombies… although my stomach’s reaction is telling me that someone is most definitely selling Fried Spiced Brains on a Stick somewhere close by. Hmmm – what was the last thing I ate…?
“Something smells good!” Sandy’s voice interrupts my thoughts, catching up. “No wonder the lions are lurking. Possibly a banquet later!”
“For the lions?” I ask, dubiously – but he just grins.
“We shall see!” he says, jovially. “Whenever a great rumour circulates here, we plan for the best possible outcome. A celebration. No one can gossip on an empty stomach. Or revel. And if the gods declare war, no-one can fight or die well on an empty stomach either!”
“What gods?” I enquire. “Have you seen the great river-god Atum too?”
“Atum? He is whitebait, compared to some of the demons I have seen!” Sandy chuckles. The others trot up behind him. “But they are not our concern today. Thieves are our concern! And catching them is always a cause for celebration! Also, for the lions. There are always leftovers, after the Surgeons of Justice have had their piece.”
“Are we going to stick around long enough to see that?” Carvery cuts in. “Because I don’t want to miss all the cool stuff. We had hardly any time at all in Madam Dingdong’s Bring Your Own Towel Sauna and Spa earlier.”
“And I’m sobering up,” Ace warns. “I’m actually starting to feel like I could use a coffee right now. That’s not good. I’ll be walking straight next.”
Aha – that explains his Ace-is-in-charge episode, just recently. I get a little involuntary tremble of excitement. Ooh. Ace sober. That’s something I hadn’t considered as a possibility before, in any of my fantasies… imagine what his lap-times as The Stig would be like on Top Gear, driving under the influence of only coffee and sobriety?
“Well, you men have had no fun yet at all, I can see!” Sandy agrees, as my thoughts spin dizzily. “But first, we will see to Homer. My strangest cousin is not himself after a swim among the Squidmorph eggs, it seems.”
“I’m glad you noticed that too,” Crispin remarks. “Perhaps he could be examined for parasites while recovering.”
Oh… we exchange glances. Of course – Homer isn’t wearing any trousers to display telltale holes. If a squidling had taken a fancy to his pants-wearing area as their potential incubator-host, they wouldn’t even have had to nudge him first to get his attention… they’d only have had to lean in his general direction…
So we head off between the tents, with their mind-boggling display of wares – everything from carpets to pots and pans, jewellery and footwear, to confectionery and hot food.
I’m sure I smell the familiar barbecue scent of the chicken wings I ate at Crispin’s last night, causing a blush to steal across my face.
God, I could eat him alive. Or dead. I’m not fussy.
I wonder if it’s possible to sperm-jack a zombie? Maybe so… and if he’s still keen on that sleeping-with-a-virgin-cure idea later on, I might actually get something out of the deal…
Particularly if that crazy witch-doctoring notion about a ‘cure’ actually works.
Although it would of course contravene all of my Forensic Anthropology dissertation research. And might get me thrown out of the Germaine Greer Readers’ Society at Cramps University.
Gosh, having interesting sectarian morals instead of a rabid sex-life is such a burden! Just think, if I’d only got drunk on Fresher’s week instead of working at Pizza Heaven to pay my half of the rent, I could now be knocked up, knocked about, and nailed under the floorboards, just like my floozy housemate Miss Thing – whatever her name is. Exciting, experienced, and dead to the world. A notch on any number of sports jocks’ baseball bats. Just a notch, of course, not a name. And possibly some deadly splinters.
But it looks like any opportunity of mine to play fast and loose with zombie anatomy, risky though that may be, is a long way off yet. Particularly with Ace and Carvery still hanging around, knocking ideas into my libido like a Newton’s Cradle of live machismo. Gaahh. Damn them.
I need a King Solomon to slice me in two, so there’s enough to go around. Or maybe three, with room for the zombie experiments as well…
As if reading my mind, Sandy draws his scimitar, approaching the high wooden gateway of the citadel.
“Stay close behind me,” he warns. “These predators will separate the old and the weak, and before you know it, you will buy much furniture, and more camels than your armies can handle!”
“I’m not lifting anything with more than two legs,” Carvery remarks.
“Two legs or less,” Ace adds, meaningfully.
“Dude, you did one with three earlier,” Carvery reminds him. “Lady Glandula de Bathtub.”
“That was no leg,” says Ace. “That was a big alien sucker tentacle.”
“Maybe it was a squidling up her,” muses Carvery. “You did a zombie queen with one up the spout already.”
“Nothing new about that,” Ace shrugs. “Your mum, for example.”
“No, the Squidmorph tentacles were different,” I interrupt, before I can stop myself. “They’ve got hooks, not suckers…”
They both stare at me.
“I’m watching you, Sarah Bellum,” Carvery says, sharply. “If you so much as fart a tiny tentacle, or burp black ink, you’re going home in a tin pail.”
We stick close together, aware of the eyes of all stallholders and storekeepers on us, as we navigate our way through the baked-clay streets. It feels like vultures are watching our passage, waiting for one of us to fall back, or take a wrong turn…
“Here,” Sandy announces, leaping from his camel, outside an arch in the narrow passageway. It is curtained by an ornate rug. He taps the tip of his scimitar lightly on a bell attached to the outside wall. “We will see if the Doctor is in.”
Momentarily, the rug is tweaked aside, and a pair of shrewd black eyes assesses us, from inside a clean white linen yashmak.
“Amiira!” Sandy bows. “Is our brother the Doctor at home? Poor Homer has had a nasty turn, in the Well of Our Souls.”
The lady in white nods and steps back, gesturing for him to enter. He beckons to Ace and Carvery, who help to lift Homer down off the camel, and carry him inside.
I’m left outside the surgery with Crispin, holding the camels.
“How do you like it so far, Miss Bellummm?” he asks presently, after fidgetting for a while, and clearing his throat.
“What?” I ask, obtusely. “The Eight a.m. Lounge? Um – it’s very hot…”
The Naval uniform I’m still dressed in feels as though it’s been felted onto me, in the heat after the depths of the well.
“I meant more…” He pauses and scratches his head. “The thought of being my new secretary.”
“Oh – that…” I recall our half-finished conversation, awkwardly. “I think my housemate Whatserface really had her heart set on the job, to be honest. I’m quite happy delivering pizzas for a living.”
“Really?” he asks, surprised.
“Why?” I snap. “What’s weird about that?”
“Everything?” he suggests, helplessly.
How could I expect him to understand… the freedom. The open road. The looks on customers’ faces, when their food arrives… especially Ace’s, when I’ve been waiting for him outside Bumgang & Sons’ Breaker’s Yard unannounced, with a Chinese Meat Feast and Garlicky Dough Balls… the exhilaration of chasing him down the road when he leaves by the other gate!
“You wouldn’t understand, Crispin,” I sigh. “You’re rich. And privileged…”
“And dead?” he suggests.
“No!” I cry, horrified by his dejected expression. “No, no! Some of the best people I know of are dead. At the Body Farm. Mr. Wheelie-Bin, for example – such a good listener…”
“I see.” Crispin sounds a little colder, and his back goes stiffer, as he stares at me.
“But not such a good talker,” I finish, wretchedly.
But the damage is done. Crispin says no more to me, as we wait with the camels outside the surgery. Not even when Carvery’s camel decides to sit down heavily on my foot, parping all the way, like a bean-fed brass section.
Damn. Damn, damn, damn…
Meeting in the marketplace for Carrie, in ‘Sex & The City 2’ – Enjoy 🙂
More mindless mayhem: The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum
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