Tom Petty vs. Kanye West – Learning to Touch the Sky mash-up…
Mist gathers on the yellow dirt road as we ascend to higher ground, and the air noticeably cools, a relief from the relentless sun. I notice Crispin looking up at the scudding wispy clouds, worried.
“There is a short cut to the top,” he says. “But it is guarded, as a strategic outpost. With this fog, we could be at risk.”
“We could be at risk IN this fog,” Luke points out.
Shifting shapes are already forming on the path up ahead, and I hear a faint dragging over the stony ground, akin to the noise of a heavy suitcase hauled by a weary traveller.
“Ahhh,” Crispin muses. “These people are usually of the least concern to most visiting the Ten a.m. Lounge… but taking recent events into consideration, perhaps avoiding them should be taken as advisory.”
“Who are they, Crispin?” I ask, while Homer skips ahead foolishly.
Through the wreaths of mist, dark robes flutter.
“They are the Sisters of Tolerance and Forgiveness, from the nunnery in the mountains,” Crispin replies. “By the look of things, the orchestra, taking a morning stroll.”
A bass drum with a large hole in it rolls down the path right past us, trailing green smoke. It strikes a rock on the way, and a disembodied gray head bounces out of it, shedding wimple and spectacles.
“I get the feeling Sister Jaundice didn’t like orchestra practise much either,” Ace remarks.
Green eyes glow dimly through the fog, as the undead Sisters move gradually closer.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been less pleased to see a bunch of virgins,” says Carvery. “Present company excepted, Sarah.”
“Glad to hear I’m still your Pubic Enemy Number One,” I mutter.
The ground at their feet seems to bubble in an unearthly fashion, preceeding their approach – but then I hear the croaking, and the tide of panic-stricken frogs bounds ahead, parting like the Red Sea as they pass by our own little group.
“Where is this short-cut again, Crispin?” Luke asks brightly, as the nearest nun lurches in his direction, dragging an acoustic guitar behind her. “Before I’m Tolerated and Forgiven with Extreme Prejudice?”
And then the guitarist nun’s head explodes, scattering glittering green slime. A set of false teeth clangs off my breastplate.
“I thought you were saving that last cartridge?” Ace says to Carvery.
“Wasn’t me,” Carvery shakes his head.
“The Hill-Dwellers,” Crispin points up into the trees.
We look. The next movement I see is small and fast – and a feathered spear skewers the next two nuns, like a shish kebab.
“They’re children!” I exclaim, spotting several small, round, black-eyed faces in the ferns. Two are blowing raspberries, and one turns around and drops a farting moony.
“Otherwise known as the Children’s Sunday School Choir,” Crispin says apologetically, as a volley of water-balloons slows the encroaching nuns down a little.
“Let me guess – they hate music practise too?” says Ace.
“How dangerous are they?” Carvery asks. “On a scale from Ewok to Chucky?”
“I would say, Mad Max III: Beyond ThunderGoonies…?” Crispin hazards, waggling a hand uncertainly.
“Then let’s go,” Carvery says. “Rather the ThunderGoonies than Sisters Silent Order Hill.”
And we leave the yellow dirt path, scrambling up into the bracken underneath the trees, while the occasional twang of catgut and honk of brass section behind us punctuates the stand-off between orchestra and choir.
The forest is steep, and carpeted with slippery pine-needles. More than once, Homer has to be rescued from holes among the tree-roots, and his blonde cheerleader wig is lost in the brambles.
“Seen a few booby-traps,” says Luke, pointing out a net high in the branches as we pass under it. “Resourceful, aren’t they?”
“Getting out of Sunday school requires some cunning, Mr. Lukan,” Crispin agrees.
Ace and Carvery navigate the uphill rocks and fallen tree-trunks with the same ease that Ace demonstrated on the rooftops of the citadel in the Eight a.m. Lounge, hopping, skipping, jumping and somersaulting from one foothold to the next. I trail behind, lugging the rest of the Swiss watchmaker’s armour wrapped in the small and useless rug.
If only it was a flying rug – I’d be up this cliff in no time…
“Pity I don’t know how you really work,” I mutter to the dormant clockwork hand, clipped around my wrist as usual. “I’d make you enchant this rug to fly…”
I blink. One of the gemstones in the clockwork hand winked at me. Glittery green, like the magic from Sister Jaundice’s cello-bow.
I should have known it would absorb some of that…
“Nah…” I say aloud, warily. “By the look of things, her magic only does frog’s legs and zombie nuns. I don’t think I fancy it.”
“You are referring to the witchcraft,” Crispin says, overhearing me, as he and Luke help Homer over another tree-stump. “You are right to be cautious. Channelled through the clockwork hand, I have no idea how it would be magnified.”
I gulp. He’s got a point. Everything that the clockwork hand has absorbed so far has been regurgitated at a magnitude many thousand times over.
And if the spell Sister Jaundice was about to cast had been intended to destroy Atum, what that small glittery green glimmer in the works of the clockwork hand could do now is anyone’s guess…
“She seemed nice,” I say, and he shoots me a quizzical look. “At first, I mean. Not evil at all.”
Liar, my conscience pricks me. You thought she was competing with you for Crispin!
“Her career ambitions may have been genuine,” he says, generously. “Perhaps she had a small problem with constructive criticism.”
“Oh.” This hadn’t occurred to me. “So you don’t think it’s unusual that a witch would join a nunnery?”
“Not at all, Sarah Bellummm,” he replies. “Judging by her reaction to the unfortunate General Winslow’s remarks, I imagine she joined the Sisterhood to avoid the stress of romantic disappointment in life.”
I suddenly feel quite cold all over. Yes… and judging by her reaction to the snake-god Atum, and what I’ve recently heard that HE represents, I expect she had rather a large bone to pick with romantic disappointment…
More pity the poor nuns, I think. The sound of an explosion behind us, and the whooping of the junior Sunday School Choir, makes me think it’s probably not a good day to be a nun, all in all.
“But you have nothing to fear there, Sarah Bellummm,” Crispin continues. “I think that your self-control in her shoes would have been admirable.”
What? What does he mean by that?
My reaction to romantic disappointment in life?
Or my possession of a deadly spell-casting ability?
“Er…” I say, but I don’t know where to begin on that one. “Thanks.”
Crispin looks satisfied, anyway – but I… I can’t put my finger on it. What is he suggesting?
“Whoa,” I hear Ace’s voice, ahead of us. “Is this it?”
We hurry to catch up, and emerge on a hilltop clearing. It ends abruptly, with a sheer drop of eroded cliff-face. The end of the winding yellow dirt road can be seen curving up to it, around our short-cut through the wooded hillside.
A gangplank is installed over the precipice.
“Our ride should be here.” Crispin produces his little opera-glasses, and scans the horizon. “The wind has been brisk, and they will have been in the slipstream of the tornado…”
“Perhaps they were IN the tornado,” Carvery suggests.
Then the view abruptly vanishes, as a colossal shape rises silently out of the gorge before our feet. Ropes restraining a multicoloured silken aeronautical envelope loom above us, creaking a little.
“My apologies for sneaking up on you, Mr. Dry!” a voice hails from the deck of the wooden barge suspended underneath the balloon. “We had to sail in beneath the mist. Very poor visibility today. You are on foot? Where is the Diablo?”
“I had company instead this morning,” Crispin replies. “We have taken a stroll via the scenic route.”
“The boys in charge of valet servicing will be disappointed!” The side of the airship lines up with the gangplank, and figures on board secure it with ropes before opening the gate.
“Permission to come aboard?” Crispin asks, formally.
“Permission granted, Mr. Dry.”
We file across the plank. I do my best not to look down.
“Captain Dartos,” Crispin greets the pilot of the airship. “May I introduce Mr. Bumgang, Mr. Slaughter, Mr. Lukan, and Miss Bellummm. Homer, of course, you know…”
The swarthy Captain, in the shiny black cap and navy-blue fisherman’s sweater (with leather elbow-patches) gives us a little nod.
“A pleasure to fly you,” he says, as the crew untie the ship. “Make yourselves at home. Homer, show Miss Bellum to the Ladies’ cabin, so that she may rest and freshen up if need be.”
Homer eagerly complies, and I find myself hustled to the far end of the deck and through an oak door, inlaid with Mother-of-Pearl.
On the far side is an elegant suite furnished with chaises longues and mirrors, with leaded windows to make the most of the view. I take a last look out at the Ten a.m. Lounge, where the retreating hillside is smoking, punctuated by flashes of burning green glitter as the Sunday School Choir continue to negotiate their singing class grades with the charmed zombie nuns.
Homer bounces around the cabin happily, finding a giant powder-puff on the large dressing-table, and coating himself liberally with talc. Herself… I’ll get it right at some point.
I head for the washroom, and the mirror describes pretty much what I expected. More mud and green slime than Sarah Bellum. I shed the medical scrubs, and prise off the armoured torso underneath before helping myself to the hot water and scented soap.
Homer bursts in wearing a pink frilly housecoat and a new Cher-style long red wig, and drops a great heap of things on the floor.
“Goooood,” he says, before exiting again.
I’m not so sure that ‘good’ is the word I would have chosen… I pick up the first item, which turns out to be a fuchsia pink patent leather thong with a front zip opening, and gulp.
Why do they keep all this stuff on board? Is it Homer’s? Is Crispin into this sort of thing? How will neon-coloured pigskin undergarments increase my chances with men generally? Of course, I don’t want to end up like Sister Jaundice – repressed, unfulfilled, frustrated, angry, blaming the gods, and squished under a falling house…
And of course, there’s all this armour belonging to the unfortunate Swiss watchmaker to haul around as well… perhaps I could tie it all together with something in that little rug? I sigh, and rummage in the heap of clothing further.
The clockwork hand winks repeatedly at me from my wrist, with its green glittery potential to do harm.
“Homer,” I grumble to myself, holding up a Wonder Woman outfit. “You have got to be kidding.”
I straighten up and shake my head, tossing it back onto the pile.
“You want to do something useful with that magic?” I ask the clockwork hand, as it sparkles away on my arm merrily. “Turn this heap of junk into something suitable to wear…”
There is an obliging puff of green smoke, and I jump, at a bang no louder than a champagne cork.
Hmmm – maybe it didn’t absorb as much of that nasty magic spell as I thought?
When the smoke clears, a neatly-folded pile of cream silk and cashmere appears, complete with elegant footwear and understated underthings.
…Wow. And then I catch sight of myself in the mirror, and get a bigger shock.
It’s even done my hair and make-up! I look like the actress out of Some Like It At Tiffany’s, or whatever it’s called.
I take it back – that was a LOT of magic…
But that’s not all.
Where the segments of Swiss suit of armour and the dismal small rug were lying, there is now only a tapestry clutch-bag, and a gold charm necklace.
I pick it up curiously, and dangle it in the light.
The single charm is, of course, a tiny, one-armed suit of armour.
“At least it’s better than frogs and zombie nuns,” I concede, immediately transferring the little leather-bound diary into the clutch-bag, and pull on the enchanted attire. “Hmmm. It might look like La Senza, but it still chafes like pink plastic pig thong…”
Pushing the discomfort to the back of my coccyx as well as my mind, I finish dressing, and clasp the necklace around my neck. Fortunately, the suit of armour as a charm doesn’t weigh the same as a suit of armour at full size.
I pick up the clutch, and step out of the bathroom.
“Goodness, Homer,” I greet him. “Ready for the prom?”
He gives a coquettish twirl of full-length peacock-blue satin, fanning himself like a débutante.
There is a knock on the door.
“Are you girls decent yet?” Ace Bumgang’s voice calls through, and my heart responds like a hamster in an exercise-wheel. “If not, hurry up. Got another situation out here.”
“Just coming!” I reach for Homer’s hand, who totters along behind in sequinned slippers, as we hurry back outside.
Ace is already heading back towards the others, who are looking over the side of the wooden air-ship when we emerge. Leaving Homer straggling, I try to catch up with him.
Only Crispin spares my new turn-out a second glance when I join them.
“Very fetching, Sarah Bellummm,” he whispers, giving me a dark thrill.
Ace and Carvery are still in their cowboy outfits, and I’m aware of feeling a little resentment that my own sartorial efforts don’t have the same effect on them as theirs are having on me.
…Which could be due to the issue of the zombie nuns hanging onto the ballast underneath the air-ship, I note, as I peek over the edge.
“Can’t we cut them loose?” Carvery asks.
Through the clouds below, it’s clear that we’re now over open sea.
“We are already ahead of time, Mr. Slaughter,” Captain Dartos tells him. “If we drop the ballast, we will jump forward even further, and lose our place in the schedule completely. The timetable will be totally awry.”
One of the glowing-eyed nuns tries to crawl higher. A trombone is bent around her oddly-angled neck, hindering progress slightly.
“Maybe they just want to put on a little concert for us?” Ace suggests. “Spread the word of the Lord.”
“Well, I didn’t think they wanted to join the Mile High Club,” says Carvery sourly.
“You hope,” Luke adds. “Might be the best opportunity to get your hands on a set of virgin organs for your girlfriend.”
“I don’t think she plays the keyboards.” Ace shakes his head.
A liver-spotted, wrinkly nun-hand reaches up the side of the ship, grasping the air for another handhold.
“Virgin or not, I think they might be a bit past their Use By date,” Carvery remarks.
A set of bagpipes drops out of the skirts of the nearest nun as if to illustrate, braying as they fall towards the ocean below.
“Hooome!” Homer clutches himself in sympathy.
“Behind you, Sarah Bellummm!” Crispin shouts.
I turn, just as a double bass is raised over my head, blotting out the sun, and I open my mouth to scream…
…But it appears that the zealous elderly nun has overestimated her superhuman zombie strength, as the weight of the instrument reaches its zenith and continues with its own momentum, toppling her slowly over backwards with a look of undead surprise. Captain Dartos runs in with an indignant cry, and more helpfully, an axe.
The look of surprise and disappointment on the nun’s face is still evident as her head is sent flying over the side, off the steel toecap of his boot.
More disappointment is evident from the groans of her Sisterhood, as they remain clinging to the ballast.
“We cannot introduce this metaphysical type of infection to the Elevensies Lounge,” the Captain says, holstering his weapon. Ace and Carvery haul the rest of the nun’s body over the side, managing to knock another doomed groping climber loose in the process, and Luke does the same with the abandoned double bass. “If they cannot be stopped, Mr. Dry…”
“A detour. I understand,” says Crispin, grimly.
“What do you mean, a detour?” I ask.
But his expression is cold and distant. A scream from one of the crew alerts us to further hostile presence already aboard our ship.
“Where’s that Sunday School Choir when you need them?” Luke mutters.
“Oh, that would be chaos, Mr. Lukan,” Crispin replies. “They get terribly air-sick, require more clean underwear for a single journey than the luggage allowance permits, and are always asking to stop for chicken dunkers and ice-cream.”
“There is only one solution,” Captain Dartos continues, while the others seize more axes from the emergency points by the ballast ropes, to arm themselves in turn. “The logical solution!”
“Do what you have to, Captain,” Crispin agrees. “We will cover you.”
The Captain runs to the helm, leaping up the stairs four at a time.
“What’s happening?” I ask as Crispin hands me an axe, which I nearly drop straight through the deck at my feet, scuffing a satin-covered toe. It’s far heavier than I expected.
“Change of course, Sarah Bellummm,” he tells me.
I look up in time to see the Captain spinning the tiller already, and the great air-ship tilts.
The door to the Ladies’ cabin at the far end of the deck swings open, and several nuns shuffle out, groaning and trailing musical instruments entangled with neon Lycra hen-night party-wear…
‘Stardust’ pirates fan trailer – Enjoy 🙂
More mindless mayhem: The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum
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