David Bowie vs. Jay-Z – Fame/99 Problems mash-up…
The cello-toting ex-nun, Summer Jaundice, is already strolling over to the dormitories on the far side of the square.
“Hello,” she says to the Playbunny, Miss ‘Cynthia’ December. She sticks out a pale hand, attached limply to a very bony wrist. “I’m Summer.”
The calendar girl squints down through her cigarette smoke.
“Wearing a lot of clothes for summer,” she remarks. “Where you from, the Himalayas? I bet you kick ass on the catwalks there.”
“What’s the plan?” Ace asks, while Carvery merely watches the two women talking, as if wondering if they’d both fit into the same pre-dug hole in the ground.
“We had better start acting like professional thespians,” Crispin advises quietly. “The General likes to hear music while performing his morning ablutions. I will practise some melodies on the piano, and you two – I don’t know, look like you are warming-up and stretching… Homer – well, of course, we don’t need to worry about him or her…”
Homer is already twirling artfully around the supports of the long porch spanning the length of the dormitory building, flapping his striped woolly scarf like the feather boa from earlier.
“…Mr. Lukan, do you have any skills? Any juggling or balancing tricks besides the waterskiing which could be put to good use?”
“No, sorry.” Luke sighs. “I can sing a bit, I guess… ahem… ‘When I fall in love, it will be forever…’”
Our jaws drop.
“Holy cow, dude,” says Ace. “You sound like Old King Cole.”
“Nat,” says Carvery, glancing my way as I stare at him in turn, and he slaps me sharply on the forehead. “There – gnat. Wouldn’t want your head swelling any bigger.”
“Oh.” I dazedly glimpse the squashed bug on the palm of his hand, before he wipes it on his trousers. “Cheers.”
“I was aiming more for Louis Armstrong…” Luke grumbles vaguely. “Do you think he’ll fall for it?”
“I don’t think you will have any problem fooling him, Mr. Lukan,” Crispin assures him. “That leaves Corporal Punishment and Miss Bellummm, who has already been mistaken for medical staff…”
“Nearly a qualified Forensic Anthropologist, you know,” I say, a little hurt.
“I think you two will be the safest to explore the camp and see if any intelligence on the river-god Atum is being kept here,” Crispin continues. “Corporal Punishment has the relevant knowledge, and Sarah Bellummm has the clockwork hand to protect her…”
“Well, I…” I say bashfully, not entirely sure it’s picked me for that reason at all – but Crispin is decided on the plan.
“We will rendezvous backstage,” he announces, pointing towards the tall building swathed in impressive drapes. “If you hear the music stop, or anything else alarms you, take the northernmost path into the hills, beyond the main theatre. Do not wait for anyone. Is that clear?”
We all nod.
“Excellent.” Crispin straightens up, and turns towards the dormitories. “Would anyone care to join me for a little light rehearsal in the piano-room…?”
Ace, Carvery and Luke follow him into the building.
Ace and Carvery re-emerge, only briefly, to dump a dead body on the porch. Possibly of the previous pianist.
Some notes strike up. Homer carries on dancing regardless.
“Honey,” Miss December says to him, as he pirouettes past her. “You’re really working that woolly scarf.”
“This way, Miss Bellum!” Corporal Punishment urges. “I have long awaited the opportunity to investigate this cult!”
I follow as he leads the way around to the back of the building housing General Winslow’s cabin, checking doors and windows.
The subject of cults has been touched upon at University, certainly – from a Forensics viewpoint, usually regarding the best way to preserve the crime scene and identify all of the bodies…
I catch myself sighing again, thinking of Mr. Wheelie-Bin back at the Body Farm. If only I’d said ‘No’ to my housemate yesterday when she’d asked me to go to the interview in her place. I could be sitting under that silver birch tree now, doing my own homework, with a thermos of Mochacinno and a Rich Tea biscuit, catching up on one of our comfortable heart-to-hearts.
Such a good listener… and of course, is never jealous when I talk about waiting around for Ace Bumgang outside the breaker’s yard with a Chinese Meat Feast pizza…
And then I give a little squeak of pain.
The clockwork hand pinched me!
It’s as if it knows exactly what I’m thinking!
“I believe many of the General’s recruits are buried here, Miss Bellum!” says Corporal Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here Punishment.
“What makes you say that?” I ask.
“All the burial mounds, Miss Bellum!”
I look to where he points.
The ground out back of the buildings is a giant molehill paradise. Some have little makeshift crosses or stones arranged on them. Here and there, an Army toecap sticks out, or a skeletal extremity.
Some are even decorated with the dead stems of floral tributes (the flowers, I assume, having been eaten by monkeys long ago), and the occasional stage prop, such as a moth-eaten top hat and cane…
The Corporal cups his hands to a grimy window.
“It looks like a store-room, Miss Bellum!” he hisses. “What do you think?”
I try to clean the greasy glass with my sleeve, before peering in.
“Maybe theatre props?” I suggest, prompted by our ghoulish backdrop. “Look, I’m sure that is a suit of armour in the corner.”
“We will investigate!”
He produces another carved bone from somewhere in his uniform, and uses it to pick the lock on the door. As quietly as possible, we slip inside.
“It does look like props…” I remark. “Look, a treasure chest – some maps – and it is a suit of armour…”
Corporal Punishment picks up one of the scrolls and unfurls it. After a second, he produces an eyeglass and screws it into his eye socket for closer perusal.
“These are not props for the theatre, Miss Bellum,” he says, grimly. “These are genuine. They are the spoils of war.”
“What?” I gasp.
I look around the room. All this treasure – and even edged weapons, dating back to Medieval times…
“The General has been keeping the property of his unwitting recruits, it appears,” says the Corporal. “I see a Morningstar from the Elevensies Lounge in the corner there…”
“Oh,” I look, but I don’t see the newspaper. “Are they Communists in the Elevensies Lounge?”
“No, Miss Bellum,” says Corporal Punishment patiently. “Besides the point, but – the spiked iron ball and chain attached to a club. A Morningstar. A cultural weapon of the Elevensies Lounge.”
“Ah.” I try not to look too long at the bloodstains, and the remains of desiccated brain matter. “Crispin did tell me they are very cultured there.”
“Extremely, Miss Bellum.”
The Corporal continues poking around, looking for more academic material. Idly, I go to examine the suit of armour. It has some rather nice engravings and embellishments.
“It must have belonged to someone quite important,” I remark. “A pity, there are some parts missing. It only has one arm, and no stopcock.”
“A suit of armour with plumbing, Miss Bellum?” The Corporal sounds impressed. “That is technology unknown to me, I must admit.”
I peer into the empty shoulder-socket.
“How very curious…” I muse. “It seems to be equipped for attachments – on the inside…”
“Let me see, Miss Bellum!” Corporal Punishment is suddenly behind me and breathing right down my neck, giving me an unexpected thrill, and I step away obediently.
Goodness… all of the little hairs on my nape are standing upright…
“This is bad, Miss Bellum,” he announces.
He’s not kidding. I don’t think there is room in my diary for any more male fantasies.
“General Winslow might not know what he has here, or he could be holding it to ransom,” the Corporal mutters, half to himself. Gosh, he is very attractive when he is thinking aloud… “You know the story of the mad man, he runs around like a headless chicken shouting Wolf! Wolf! All day every day… until a wolf shows up, but nobody listens… it is also true of the cult-leaders, they preach much nonsense, but sometimes in the nonsense is an invisible truth…”
“Is this something to do with Atum?” I ask, wondering how a huge carved bone through the nasal septum would affect potential intimacy.
I will have to Google that, when I get home…
“It is somewhat relevant, yes,” says the Corporal. “Like I was saying, to those who would not bother to wait for prayers to be answered. I hope the General does not know what it is – unless he has the rest of it as well – because then the world is in very great danger!”
“Ohhh…” I look it up and down, under its patina of dust. “Could we steal it from him?”
The Corporal’s pearly white eyes focus and re-focus, as his great academic mind grapples with the suggested solution.
“Um,” he ponders. “Well, er, that would certainly… yes… Yes! Find something to wrap it in! And quietly!”
We emerge again into the quad nonchalantly, the Corporal’s stride a little stiff, while I’m now feeling decidedly reinforced around the chest and corset regions. The rest of the parts are rolled up in a small ornamental rug, which despite much whistling and coaxing seems to be of the Lesser Wiping-Footed variety, not the Great Flying Carpet sort.
And I swear the clockwork hand is getting impatient. It gave me at least one Chinese burn and pinched me several more times while we were packing up the suit of armour…
But I’m quickly distracted by the sound of the piano accompanying Luke’s impressive tenor, and – is that the cello playing along?
I can feel my ears burning already, as the thought of Crispin seated at the piano with another woman invades my mind…
And then the General himself appears briefly on his own porch, a pink towel on his head and a white fluffy bathrobe wrapped around him, cooling himself with a rice-paper fan.
“That is not bad, my lovely boys and girls!” he shouts. “But let’s see if you is any good at putting on a dress rehearsal! All of you on stage in one minute, chop-chop! Get moving!”
The quad is suddenly a hubbub of activity, as hitherto unseen occupants of the theatre camp hurry out of various dormitories, setting out chairs and working on winching up the enormous curtains.
A white grand piano is wheeled out onto the middle of the stage.
“Homer, honey!” I hear Cynthia’s voice calling. “Help me with these rollers!”
“Backstage, Miss Bellum!” Corporal Punishment reminds me. “Quickly!”
Although there’s not much that’s ‘quickly’ about it for the pair of us, as we waddle over uncomfortably, and clamber the steps into the wings.
“What do you mean when you say, people who won’t wait for prayers to be answered?” I whisper, as more stage-hands hurry back and forth. “Have they learned of the Shambles too?”
“They have taken advice from the Incantations, but interpret them differently,” the Corporal replies. “From Incantation Seventy-Seven, One Hundred and Fifty-One, One Hundred and Seventy-One, and possibly others. They have replaced faith in the gods with science and technology. Even in planning for the afterlife, Miss Bellum!”
“Why? It’s not as if they can take it with them…” I begin. A large scenery cut-out of the Great Pyramids is wheeled past me. “Who would be silly enough to think they’d need technology in the afterlife?”
“You may have noticed, Sarah Bellummm,” that other voice joins us, and my quadriceps melt. “The afterlife is not something anyone can take for granted.”
“Of course, Crispin,” I murmur apologetically.
For some reason, I’m glad to see that both he and the former Sister Jaundice are still in their regular clothes as musicians… Luke is looking very groomed, in a suit and bow-tie, very appropriate for his skills… and Homer, perhaps also appropriate for his own, is now sporting a cheerleader’s outfit and another blonde wig, matching Miss December’s quick change into her Playbunny cheerleader costume. Ace and Carvery, however…
…Here my patellas completely lose it, and try to run away down my legs, past my metatarsals and out through my phalanges…
Both are dressed as cowboys. Well – the ripped denim jeans, boots and Stetsons are recognisable, although there’s rather less going on in the shirt department. Carvery seems to have on the remains of a white muscle-back vest, while Ace has donned an open leather waistcoat.
“What have you two come as?” I try to sound cool and sarcastic, while worrying far too much about both of them wearing gun-belts, and whether or not the weapons in them are merely props.
“Lunchbox Mountain,” says Ace. “Look, I’ve covered in glitter as well…”
I try not to make eye contact with his flexing biceps and deltoids. Carvery still has the shotgun with its last cartridge, and most likely has the Taser in one of those riveted pockets…
“If this makes more money than paving and concreting, I’m throwing out the cement-mixer,” he remarks.
I realise that Crispin and Corporal Punishment have been whispering. Damn! Why wasn’t I paying attention? Damn my traitorous hormones for distracting me!
We notice as a deathly hush falls across the quad. The General has emerged from his cabin, followed by two turbaned attendants – one of whom is carrying the tea-tray, the other a large wicker fan.
Now finally dressed, in a khaki uniform, the General inspects every detail of the scene as he approaches.
“Not bad, not bad, lovely boys,” he rumbles. “Sweep up that monkey do-do in the aisles, that’s right, chop-chop! Now let’s see what you band of vagabonds is hoping will entertain the troops! I want big smiley faces and jazz hands on the lot of you!”
Oh, dear. I can’t imagine any one of our surly troupe meeting those expectations. Except for Homer, of course…
Fortunately, Homer and Miss December are first out onto the stage, as Crispin plays a rousing introduction on the grand piano. Sister Jaundice is installed nearby, the cello wedged between the long skirts covering her bony knees, like a musical car-jack.
“So,” I hear Ace mutter to Carvery in the wings beside me. “How come neither of those two…?”
“Well, one of them’s Miss Plastic Fantastic,” Carvery replies. “And the other one is as deluded as this one.”
“Are you referring to me?” I whisper, annoyed.
They look at me irritably.
“No,” says Carvery. “Your dead housemate bitch back in the Five a.m. Lounge.”
“Why do I get the feeling you want her to stay that way?” I demand.
“One less mad woman in the world,” Ace shrugs.
Ah, okay. He does have a point… I’ve had to live with her, after all.
Homer, of course, gives a stellar performance with his pom-poms, and his high-kicks are far superior to Miss December’s tassel-jiggling. I just find myself hoping it’s all to the General’s taste. His reaction is inscrutable, sipping his tea through his waxed moustache, the peak of his cap pulled too low to read his expression.
Luke launches smoothly into ‘Me and My Shadow’ after his introduction by the two cheerleaders, and Sister Jaundice joins the piano-backing by scraping away enthusiastically at her cello-strings, trying to throw in the occasional jazz hand between strokes.
The General is still immovable. I’m glad I didn’t volunteer to wear the bottom half of the stolen armour under my hospital scrubs, because with this sort of nervous tension, it might be in danger of going rusty, the longer I stand here…
Time Bandits, original clip of ‘Me and My Shadow’ with Napoleon – Enjoy 🙂
More mindless mayhem: The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum
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