The Wonderful Wrisberg of Oesophagus: A Zombie Parody

Utter genius – Army of Darkness vs Straight No Chaser – Toto’s ‘Africa’/movie mash-up

General Winslow’s response to the performance is a slight nod, at which the rest of the encampment applauds politely – if somewhat nervously.

That is not too shabby, lovely boy,” growls the General. “But I does not want you pandering to that old tea-dance black-and-white minstrel image. We is not the occupying hordes anymore, we is culturally integrated now! How about something exotic? Something what harks back to your roots in the Sahara Desert?”

Sahara Desert?” I mutter. “‘Working legally as a taxi-driver since 1971’?”

That means an encore, Mr. Lukan!” Corporal Punishment hisses. “Be careful not to overstrain your voice! The General is – very demanding!”

Luke beams and turns to Crispin at the piano for a musical prompt, whose shoulders are slumped, at a loss.

Toto?” Luke suggests.

Where?!” Sister Jaundice shrieks, looking down and snatching her feet up off the floor either side of the cello, and unwittingly displaying her striped woollen nunnery stockings, under the long skirt.

Crispin nods, flexes his hands, and launches into the opening bars of ‘Africa’.

Oh, dear. I hope all the keyboard exertion doesn’t wear down those talented undead hands of his…

More like it, more like it…” mumbles the General, and the rest of the audience heaves a collective sigh of relief.

A sudden breeze flaps the stage curtains, and the scenery-hands hurry to secure them.

Funny… I didn’t think the audience sighed THAT hard…

Homer and Miss December sway rhythmically beside the piano, taking up the backing vocals.

Corporal Punishment,” I whisper. “What were you just saying to Crispin?”

A family matter, Miss Bellum,” replies the Corporal gravely. “The discovery of the armour here potentially solves an old mystery.”

What mystery?” I ask. I’m all too aware of the chafing inside the stolen breastplate, under my medical scrubs.

The mystery of what happened to the last person wearing it, Miss Bellum.”

What…” I begin, but then I remember the rows and rows of burial mounds beyond the cabins. “Oh, dear…”

Yes, Miss Bellum.”

One of the Dry family?” I venture.

The finest Swiss watchmaker, Miss Bellum.”

I gasp. No wonder the clockwork hand had been pinching me, and wringing and squeezing so painfully! With the body of its maker lying right here – somewhere…

I wonder what horror and torture the poor watchmaker had endured here in the Cult of Atum, under General Foramen Winslow’s ruthless regime – whether he was forced to sing himself hoarse, tap-dance to death, strip-tease down to the bone…

My bladder shrinks another two centimetres, as I glance at Ace and Carvery in the wings beside me, dressed in their Chippendales’ cowboy outfits.

Suddenly, I feel as though I now know the meaning of the phrase ‘Danse Macabre’…

And I don’t even speak Swiss…

You!” the General is shouting, over the music. “Sister Bandy-Legs! Is you playing a cello or trying to light a fire?! Stop sawing away like a lumberjack! Put some soul into it, damn you!”

Sister Summer Jaundice blanches, and tries to sit more elegantly.

I imagine it’s not an easy task, with two feet of wood wedged between your legs…” I murmur.

Ace and Carvery look at me.

No different from riding a horse, Miss Bellum!” replies Corporal Punishment.

That’s what I always tell them,” Ace remarks.

No point telling them,” Carvery says. “They’re usually too busy screaming to listen. Just wear ear defenders instead.”

If the General had ear defenders, he wouldn’t know if she was playing along badly or not,” Ace agrees.

Exactly.”

General Winslow glances down at his wrist, and I note the ornate watch he is consulting. Stolen, the indignant thought occurs to me…

The wind springs up again, yanking one of the curtains free from its ropes. The nearest stage-hand leaps to tame it, and ends up swinging ineffectually on the end of the gilt cord against the rising gale.

That’s quite a dust devil,” Ace grimaces, holding onto his Stetson.

It is no dust devil,” says Corporal Punishment. “It appears that Mr. Lukan is hitting the right notes.”

The General is rising slowly to his feet, as Luke starts the chorus.

That’s right, my boy…” murmurs General Winslow. “Keep singing…”

Behind him, on the horizon, I see a familiar whip-like shape also rising out of the dust, gradually gathering mass and speed, as it approaches the river – directly towards us.

Distant trees and shrubs are torn from the ground in its wake…

It’s a cyclone!” I cry. No-one in the audience seems to be taking notice. “We have to get to shelter!”

Corporal Punishment stops me, with a hand on my arm.

What are you doing?!” I demand. “Are you mad?”

No, Miss Bellum,” he tells me. “Wait and see…”

He’s crazy… but I stand firm – or as firm as my jelly-legs permit – while the weather phenomenon towers above us, blotting out the sun.

I look in utter frustration at the clockwork hand clamped around my own wrist.

Now would be a good time!” I shout at it.

But it merely glitters, and does nothing.

The scream of elephants and braying of cattle is barely audible above the roar of the twister, as it hits the far riverbank and forms a waterspout…

Where it remains, the muddy waters of the river raining down on the stage and the audience, along with the occasional monkey limb.

The rearmost four rows of seats in the audience are decimated by a falling bullock.

Keep playing!” orders the General. “Louder!”

Luke closes his eyes, and opens up his lungs.

The cyclone’s rotation gathers speed in its static position mid-river, like an upright washing-machine entering the spin cycle.

And in the hellish darkness at the centre of the waterspout, glimmering through the murky rush of water, a giant Eye slowly ascends…

Atum…” I breathe.

It is a Summoning!” Corporal Punishment shouts in my ear, as we cling to the side-supports of the stage, against the buffeting wind.

The gigantic river-god rises higher and higher inside the water-spout. There is a strong smell of brine, and a barnacle the size of a saucepan ricochets off the hidden breastplate under my clothes, knocking all the air out of my chest.

Keep playing!” the General yells. “Even you, Bandy-Legs!”

Sister Jaundice leaps to her feet, tossing aside the cello, which concusses Miss December.

My legs are not bandy!” she screams, pointing at the General with her bow, her eyes flashing angrily.

And I mean, literally flashing… green, like traffic-lights…

Almost apologetically, the clockwork hand opens from its death-grip around my wrist.

It’s too late, I hear myself thinking before I can grasp and level the illuminated clockwork hand, as the line of green fire from Sister Jaundice’s eyes crawls down the bow, and leaps straight into the General’s heart.

There is a bang, and a puff of green smoke and glitter, quickly washed away by the rain from the tornado.

All that remains of General Foramen Winslow are his boots and hat.

Crispin is still playing – and the others are still singing, eyes closed as if in a trance.

The clockwork hand only uncurls those deadly fingers as she aims the bow a second time – towards the river…

Too slow, I’m thinking, as I see the line of green fire moving down her arm again…

I hate musicals,” she glowers. “And I hate crazy megalomaniac Generals. But I really REALLY hate giant, omnipotent snake-gods…”

Then I remember the last thing the clockwork hand absorbed, as Carvery reaches for his Taser and shakes his head, hesitating.

Can’t mix water and electricity,” he grumbles, stamping into the considerable puddle on the stage.

As a last resort, I look upwards into the sky desperately – yes – and point the clockwork hand straight up above my head.

First rule of home D.I.Y…” Carvery mutters.

There’s no place like home!” I scream.

The massive bolt shoots from the clockwork hand, lighting up the sky, turning the entire landscape white – except for the witch-nun Sister Jaundice and her green fire, poised to strike the river-God in his watery prison…

A blackened village hut comes crashing down onto the stage, its grass roof smoking ominously. Cello splinters and imploded green glitter fly everywhere.

Aw, Sarah,” says Ace. “Did you have to squash Miss December as well?”

That’s almost two full sets of human organs you owe me,” Carvery adds. “And a few extra pounds of silicone butt and boobage.”

The door of the burned hut swings open with a creak, for a dazed elderly villager to emerge, his make-do diaper around his ankles.

Jeez…” says Carvery, organ collection quickly forgotten.

Someone get this man a nice big leaf!” hollers Ace.

Ribbet… croak… ribbet

I turn to see a webbed forefoot reach up out of the General’s right Army boot, and a batrachian amphibious brown warty face with a waxed moustache follows, burping imperiously.

Crispin’s hands hesitate over the piano keys, and his eyelids flutter over his jet-black eyes. Luke’s voice fades uncertainly. Homer stops swaying, and looks around.

Hoooome!” he squeaks, pointing at the pom-poms sticking out from under the lightning-struck village hut.

As soon as the last note of the tune echoes away, the storm abruptly ceases. The cyclone and waterspout silently collapse, and for one split second, the river-god Atum is looking down at us accusingly, with his all-seeing alien eye.

Then he is gone, with a serpentine flick back underwater. A neverending tidal ripple follows.

He looks really pissed off,” I observe, as the last few raindrops fall, and the broiling sun returns.

Well…” Carvery ponders, and then shrugs. “He’s just been sucked up out of nowhere… and then the witch tried to blow him out at the last minute. Where do I even begin?”

The tea-vala has picked himself up from where he was sheltering under his tea-tray. He surveys the scene briefly, and claps his hands.

Strike camp!” he cries. “Moving on after lunch – Frog Leg Soup!”

The former General makes an optimistic leap for freedom, straight into an awaiting silver samovar. The lid clatters down, drowning out his final, outraged ribbet.

I hurry to Crispin’s side, as fast as the top half of the stolen armour encasing my body will allow me. The clockwork hand has immediately clamped around my wrist again, like a mechanical Chinese Burn torture device.

But it’s not the first concern on my mind any more.

Crispin,” I say gently. “Are you all right?”

He looks my way, but doesn’t seem to focus.

Please don’t say it, I think. Please don’t say

Braaainsss,” he groans, blinking, and my heart plummets.

His hands, weakened and groping, reach up to my shoulders, as my own eyes fill up with tears.

We’ve come so far… why did it have to be while he was playing music? That wasn’t the piano-related fantasy I was having at all…

Braaainsss,” he repeats, his voice getting louder.

No, Crispin,” I cry. “No, no…”

He heaves a sigh, both leaky lungs whistling in harmony.

You used your braaainsss, Sarah Bellummm,” he says. “I couldn’t be prouder of you.”

The tears pour down, and if it wasn’t for this stupid armour holding me rigid, I would have collapsed into his arms in relief.

Be careful,” he warns. “You will go rusty under there.”

Of course – he knows about the armour…

The watchmaker?” I query. “Was he related to the Dry family?”

No time,” he shakes his head. “We must hurry. Our ride to the Elevensies Lounge will be early, in the wake of the tornado.”

I move to help him to his feet, but he brushes off my assistance, his strength returning.

Thank goodness…

What happened?” Luke is asking, squinting into the ten a.m. sunshine. “Did I get the part?”

You sang up a storm, bro.” Ace claps him on the shoulder.

Yeah, you slayed ‘em,” Carvery adds, retrieving his cowboy hat from inside the grand piano and putting it back on. “Let’s go. Where are we going?”

The yellow road to the north,” Crispin tells us, pointing beyond the stage. “To the hills. We have a hot-air balloon to catch – to the far side of the world.”

Sounds familiar,” says Luke, vaguely, evidently still a little worse for wear. “Wasn’t there a tune, or something – Around the World in Eighty Days of Yellow Brick Road?

Closer to eighty minutes, I hope,” Crispin tells him. “No, Homer, leave the pom-poms. Keep the shoes, if you must. Will you be joining us, Corporal Punishment?”

The Corporal salutes stiffly.

There is much work to be done here, Mr, Dry!” he snaps. “Stolen property and Missing Persons to identify! Lots of filing and documenting!”

In that case, I look forward to your report,” Crispin acknowledges, and returns the salute formally.

The Corporal remembers something.

Take these,” he says, and pulls the lower half of the armour and the little leather-bound diary out from under his trousers. “I will inform you the moment I have any further intelligence on the fate of the finest Swiss watchmaker!”

I pocket the tiny book and accept the rest of the armour on Crispin’s behalf, tucking the parts under my arm.

I shall miss you, Corporal Punishment,” I say, sadly. “Won’t you, Crispin?”

Corporal Punishment is never far from my thoughts,” he admits.

My heart swells hopefully. He really is a family man under that hard undead exterior.

The Corporal shakes hands with the others.

Mr. Slaughter,” he says politely.

Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here,” Carvery nods.

Mr. Stig – I mean, Bumgang…”

I rattle a finger in my ear, uncertainly.

Cuz,” Ace winks at him.

And Da… I mean, Mr. Lukan…”

Good to meet you too, son,” says Luke, gripping the Corporal’s hand in both of his own. “You will make a mighty fine librarian one day.”

President,” Crispin corrects, with a sniff.

Homer, of course, will only settle for a hug. The Corporal graciously accepts, before saluting again sharply – and then scampering away, like an eager meerkat.

The six of us remaining turn to face the hills, and step onto the yellow dirt road.

What will happen to the Cult of Atum without General Winslow?” I ask. “Will they disband now, and return to their homes?”

In my experience,” Crispin divulges, as we fall into an easy, if brisk pace. “They will have a four-day holiday with much feasting and dancing, and enjoy themselves so much that they decide to celebrate annually in order to remember the day of their freedom – requiring a committee, and a calendar of events and organisation. Leaders will be appointed, and much of the year will be invested in rehearsing – so I think, over all, the answer is no.”

Trailer for the original ‘Wonderful Wizard of Oz’, with Judy Garland – Enjoy 🙂

More mindless mayhem: The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum

Also available for all other devices, and online reading, on Smashwords

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Chyme Bandits: A Zombie Parody

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

Also available for all other devices, and online reading, on Smashwords

It Ain’t Half Arsed, Mum: A Zombie Parody

Faithless vs. Yello – Sun to Me/The Race mash-up

The surface of the river ahead of us erupts with the gunfire of all three barrels in the speedboat’s turret. A rickshaw and its flying carpet making a low pass explodes into splinters, followed by a spitting fireball from its stock of napalm cocktails.

Get down!” shouts General Lissima.

We hurtle through the fireball as it rapidly burns itself out. Ace twitches at the controls, to dodge a flaming coolie-hat as it spins past his head.

The General hefts her own chain-gun, and takes care of another flying rickshaw as it pulls along the port side.

Behind you…!” I yell, as a third draws parallel on the starboard.

Cutthroat Liss keeps her eyes on her current line of fire, but her apparently independent alien tentacle shoots out backwards, straight through the side of the latest rickshaw, fatally piercing the pilot. Then it cracks like a whip, causing the pilot and his vehicle to disintegrate.

The flying carpet, unleashed, flaps quickly into the sky.

Stop that rug, Mr. Slaughter!” she yells, as her tentacle retracts. “The flying carpet whisperers will learn of our position!”

Yes, Ma’am!”

Carvery aims the turret guns upward, and another volley of deafening fire rips the unfortunate magic carpet to shreds. There is a smell of singed wool on the breeze.

Crispin, those are your grandfather’s men!” I say, grabbing his arm. “Why are they attacking?”

It is a clash of different cultures,” he says. “Nothing is personal. When one has alchemy but no technology, and the other has technology but no alchemy – without formal and incorruptible trade management, the world will always lapse into a betterment Tug o’War. These are merely the casualties of poor commerce.”

I get it,” Ace chips in, steering us around a burning tree-trunk floating downstream. “It’s like they’re both saying ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’”

And assuming the other one did it,” Carvery agrees, between shots. “Blaming with extreme prejudice.”

Quite correct, gentlemen,” Crispin nods sagely, although I have no idea what they are on about.

And whose side is she on?” asks Luke, jerking his head towards General Lissima, while still strapping on his other waterski.

Half on my mother’s side – a distant cousin, or some such.” Crispin waves a hand around vaguely. “The other half – who knows?”

He means, whose side in the war?” I hiss.

Oh.” Crispin contemplates a moment. “I think the answer is still the same.”

Wheeeeehh!” Luke leaps from the bows of the boat, and is soon surfing energetically in our wake, dodging bullets and flaming cocktails.

That’s the spirit, Mr. Lukan!” Cutthroat Liss approves. “Everyone should be having fun!”

And she blows two more rickshaws out of the sky.

I am having fun,” shouts Carvery.

Me too,” Ace agrees, steering for a moment with his knee while rolling a cigarette. “Especially watching her playing with that watering-can.”

General Lissima just chuckles, as she aims the massive chain-gun again. The barrels roll and the muzzles spit bullets relentlessly. The air hanging above the river is filled with smoke, rickshaw sawdust and cut pile.

Corporal Punishment has stopped praying, and joins Crispin and Homer and me as we sit in a row on top of the still-unconscious Justin Time.

Are you all right?” I ask him. “What was that you were quoting just now?”

Incantation Seventy, Miss Bellum,” he says. “An unnamed spell, but the purpose is clear to all who study them.”

I glance in frustration at the dormant clockwork hand, clamped around my wrist. It’s like it has a mind of its own. Rather than me being able to control it, I’m starting to worry that its reticent powers could mean the reverse is the case.

Are you sure there’s nothing in that book about this?” I persist. “I’m certain Mr. Dry Senior was implying that they are connected in some way.”

Oh, everything is connected, Miss Bellum,” says Corporal Punishment. “You have to recognise that not everyone can be bothered to wait for prayers to be answered, although they still go through the motions for appearance’s sake. They go to confession, they make the obligatory sacrifices. But the heavens can wait, they say. Here on Earth, time is money.”

Whffft?” says a muffled voice, and our seat shifts a little. “I knew it! You are selling me for spare parts!”

Your parts are safe, Mr. Time,” Crispin replies. None of us makes a move to get up, and Homer tries to wriggle into a more comfortable spot between the rickshaw pilot’s hamstrings. “Except perhaps from Mrs. Time.”

Hah, never marry a virgin!” Justin Time grumbles into the deck beneath his whiskers. “They are always hiding something. A homicidal tendency, a drunken father, a taste for human flesh, a tattoo of Jedward, a financially-crippling designer handbag habit…”

A big alien sucker tentacle?” I suggest, hoping no-one has noticed my burning flush at the mention of tattoos.

Oh, that not be so bad…” Justin mumbles. “Except she always getting it out in public, like the trollop that she is…!”

What is she, Crispin?” I whisper, while Justin continues to rant under our collective buttocks. “And your mother, begging your pardon? I mean, I know I’m not a fully-qualified Forensic Anthropologist yet, but I’ve never seen…”

I thought you knew, Sarah Bellummm.” Crispin sounds genuinely surprised. “The Sirens are well-documented.”

Ohhh…” I dredge my memories of early schooling in history and Greek mythology. “I think I recall – but tentacles were never mentioned…”

Of course,” says Crispin. “No-one who came that close survived to describe the tentacles. They traditionally kill their mates after fertilisation. Or sometimes just for fun, nowadays. Civilisation has a little to be grateful for.”

Ah.” I gulp.

I glance at Ace Bumgang, wondering if he knows how lucky he is to be alive.

Should I tell him?

No – maybe I’ll spare him the horror. For now…

After all, there might be a more opportune moment for him to be thankful to be alive, and in my company…

It looks like we are out of the Friendly Fire zone,” Crispin observes, intruding a little on my own thoughts of future human fertilisation. “We are nearly there.”

The sound of gunfire and screaming of rickshaw pilots has ceased. I risk a peek over the side.

Wheeeeehh!” Luke hollers happily, skipping over the last of the wreckage on the waterskis behind us.

The jungle has thinned out, and thank goodness – the littering of sacrificial corpses on the riverbanks is no more.

Instead, a scattering of rude wooden huts denotes villages, with women in saris beating clothes against flat stones, men in make-do diapers beating bony cattle and elephants with sticks, and children in nothing at all beating monkeys at Who Can Make The Best Silly Face.

They look so peaceful,” I remark.

Yes. The Ten a.m. Lounge is among the most benign,” Crispin agrees. “Not exactly neutral, but as close as can be estimated to neutral. The only conflict here is the Cult of Atum, and the renegade General Foramen Winslow.”

Is he dangerous?” I ask.

He is psychotic,” Crispin admits. “But of the type it is best to humour his delusions, for that is the only way to stay alive in his company.”

I will drop you off here,” Lissima Domina announces, as we approach another small jetty. “I have to take my wayward husband back to my ship.”

To the mothership?” Ace queries.

Back to Hell!” screams Justin, and is knocked unconscious again by an alien tentacle-wielded knife-butt.

Just a regular old ship, Mr. Bumgang,” she says, smiling. “I can’t be having my naughty spouse running around on dry land. Not even to see his Playbunny Boy girlfriend. Leave the controls to me.”

Rather reluctantly, Ace and Carvery leave their posts. Luke is also sad that his ride is over so soon, letting out a sigh, his skis sinking below the surface as we decelerate.

Corporal Punishment helps Homer to his feet, and Crispin offers me his arm.

Shall we, Sarah Bellummm?” he says.

We step ashore.

General Lissima’s boat turns and roars away again, back downstream into the jungle.

If anything, it is even hotter here than in the jungle. There is less shade, and the ground underfoot is closer to sand and dust than to mud. A few scrubby shrubs cling to the ground between the huts and shacks, but anything green has been stripped from them, by the livestock and the scavenging monkeys.

Serves you right,” says Carvery, as a chattering, boisterous monkey picks his pocket, and promptly Tasers itself.

Not for the first time, I’m glad I didn’t attempt that route.

This way.” Crispin gestures towards a dried-out track, marked out either side with bird skulls on sticks. Their feathers are strung between, on lengths of frayed old string.

It doesn’t seem to be a great indicator of this Cult being a peaceable one…

As we trek further, occasionally a piece of coloured paper flutters in the dust, or is caught against the scrub.

Luke picks one up.

“‘The winter of our discontent…’” he reads. “What is that – some sort of war propaganda?”

I rescue another, caught in a strip of bark.

This one just says ‘Alas…’” I add.

They are prompts, Sarah Bellummm,” Crispin replies. “The discarded notes of Cult sermons.”

Not one of those self-appointed preacher cults?” says Ace. “That’s it, I’m not drinking anything they serve here. It’ll be a suicide by cyanide cult.”

The ramshackle buildings ahead are arranged around a square, the tallest, facing us, shrouded in a heavy red-and-gilt curtain. As we approach, we see an elderly gentleman, in a white turban, totter across the quad with a tea-tray to knock on the door of one of the lower buildings, which has a golden star on its door.

On the breeze, I swear I can hear a piano, and the sounds of someone practising their scales…

Your early morning call, General Winslow, sir!” says the tea-vala gently, rapping again on the door.

Early morning call?” repeats Carvery. “It’s ten a.m!”

Do not let them hear you making light of the time, Mr. Slaughter,” murmurs Crispin. “They are a delicate sort in the Cult of Atum.”

The distant voice accompanying the piano clears its throat, and starts afresh.

Ta-ra-ra boom-dee-ay! My knickers flew away!”

We exchange looks.

They went on holiday! They came back yesterday! Ta-ra-ra boom-dee-ay…”

Ace twirls a finger perpendicular to his ear.

The door with the golden star on flies open, and out storms a whiskered, well-built, middle-aged man in a string vest and khaki shorts, sporting a uniform peaked cap, and brandishing a cane.

I heard that, you naughty boy!” he roars, with an impressive voice that you knew was born to enunciate, not just speak like any old commoner. “I also heard you singing your scales with Doh-Ray-Me-So-Farty! You are lucky I have not had my first cup of tea or I would be right over there to give you a good hiding, yes I would! Tea-vala! In my cabin now! And bring extra sugar!”

Right here, General Winslow, sir!” The tea-vala picks himself up from behind the door, having kept the tray and its contents miraculously upright, and follows him back inside.

We are fortunate,” Crispin remarks. “It looks like a regular rehearsal day. On matinée performance days, the General has been known to execute both leads and their understudies before brunch.”

Ah, maybe that’s what this is for,” Luke remarks, handing over another of the slips of paper he has been collecting as we walked. “‘Casting for female lead and understudy. Must have good legs, high-C, and dance.’ What is a high-C?”

It’s what Homer’s got, since the operation,” Ace points out.

You could audition, Homer,” Carvery suggests. “Then we’d have a man on the inside.”

They’ll be none the wiser to that,” Luke agrees. “So long as they don’t look too closely at his high-C.”

Goooood.” Homer hops up and down excitedly, and turns begging eyes on his brother.

Crispin’s manly shoulders sag.

Yes, yes,” he sighs. “We can play along, Homer. It may buy us a little time in which to find out if they have any real intelligence on the river-god Atum’s recent actions, or if the Cult is merely a front for the General’s Broadway ambitions.”

Did somebody say Broadway?!”

We turn around. A skinny young woman, with chestnut-red braids, clutching a cello case, looks at us like one big hopeful question-mark. She wears big honest spectacles and a very Amish-style pinafore dress, a cross between Anne of Green Gables, and Corporal Punishment’s dream librarian pin-up.

Are you talent scouts?” she breathes. “Is this The Jungle’s Got Talent, Get Strict With Me audition tour?”

Ah, now I see how the General finds his recruits,” Crispin remarks. “Where are you from, Miss…?”

My name is Summer… well, it’s the name I’ve chosen since I ran away from the nunnery on the mountain, where I was called Sister Jaundice. And the best I got there was second fiddle in the nuns’ orchestra, for the children’s Sunday School choir. What I really want is to play on Broadway, join a conservatory, study at Juilliard, perform under Andrew Lloyd-Webber…”

I feel my hackles rising, catching me unawares as the bespectacled drama shrimp makes big eyes at Crispin’s expensive black suit.

Am I… am I getting jealous?!

I think you’ve come on the wrong day, my friend,” Luke interrupts, patting Homer reassuringly on the back, and I realise I’m not the only one feeling threatened. “Today we are auditioning for dancing girls.”

Oh.” The big blue eyes resemble Shubunkins lost in goldfish-bowls. “I can tap-dance…”

Strippers,” Ace cuts in.

And Playbunny Boys,” adds Carvery.

Ohhhh…” Now, Summer Jaundice looks decidedly less hopeful. “Don’t dancers need musicians?”

We’ve already got a pianist,” I say.

Gonnne,” says Homer, looking down at himself through the grass skirt, wistfully.

Luke pats him on the back again.

Man, that’s something you dead white boys just gotta learn. Use it, before you lose it.”

The invisible pianist in question starts up on cue, with an off-key rendition of ‘Anything Goes’… but by the reaction from the General’s cabin, it is quite clear that Anything definitely does not Go as far as musical talent is concerned.

That is one of my favourite songs and you has just ruined it, my lovely boy!”

The General bursts out of the gold-starred door again, this time armed with a revolver, his other hand holding a half-finished mug of tea. He marches across the square to the far side, kicks open the door to the dormitory opposite with his 13-hole Army boot, and empties the gun into the unseen room beyond.

The chorus of ‘Anything Goes’ ends with an open-ended B-Flat, by the sound of it struck heavily with the forehead.

Wow,” Summer Jaundice gasps. “The judges are really harsh!”

We still have a pianist.” I catch hold of Crispin’s arm possessively, remembering his Franz Ferdinand in the restaurant last night, and what nearly happened on that piano before the power-cut…

Not dropped off yet, Sarah Bellummm,” Crispin confirms, coughing modestly.

A second door in the dormitory opens, and a completely different figure steps outside to light a cigarette, her blonde tresses in big rollers, wearing only white stockings and an oversized khaki shirt.

Now that’s the competition you’ve got to worry about, Homer,” Carvery remarks.

The strange woman turns and stretches, revealing a Playbunny tattoo on one lithe hip.

I hope you has been rehearsing, Miss December!” snarls the General, sipping his tea and scowling.

Cynthia,” she corrects him. “Only creeps call me Miss December. Creeps and creepy boyfriends, anyway.”

We has got a big day coming up! Entertaining the troops! I will not be having you lazy boys and girls spoiling it by sloppy rehearsals and coming down with the mumps and all turning up dead like last week! Poor old tea-vala spent the intermission sewing arms and legs back on instead of serving the tea! And Miss February has already cried off sick with the jungle bottom and called her agent to pick her up and still makes my life a misery with the long-distance phone-calls about her luggage not being returned! Now – what has we got here then?”

And the scary General turns towards us, and strides over.

Instinctively, we all salute.

Here to audition, sir!” pipes up Summer, as foolhardy as she is desperate, apparently.

Has you got a bikini in that cello case?” the General barks.

Just a cello, sir!”

Then I hopes you is good at ironing shirts and peeling spuds!” he shouts. His eyes move on to me, looking at my back-to-front field hospital scrubs. “What has happened to you, Sonny-boy? Did they sew your head on backwards?”

No, sir! Got dressed in the dark, sir!” I’m too scared to correct him as to my gender.

Well, at least you is honest as well as dimwitted. We can always use more medics. Can you tell a hand from a foot?”

As long as it is not on a monkey, sir!”

Good!” His gaze crosses over to Ace and Carvery. “What is up with you two Pansy-boys? Run away from the Navy, have we? Fancy a bit of singing and dancing instead, do we?”

Oh, the uniforms…” Carvery looks down at his. Ace is still shirtless. “We’re not absconders.”

Nah,” Ace joins in. “We’re strippers.”

I swear, my lungs contract all by themselves. I so do NOT need that image in my mind while trying to stand to attention in front of this terrifying and allegedly deluded man…

Ah,” the General muses. “Chippendales, eh? Well, I hear there is some market for that, especially among the other lovely Pansy-boys we has got here. And I see you has brought along some exotics. Something for everyone, whether they is into spear-chucking or limbo-dancing, no doubt. Looks like we can put on quite the variety show with all of you circus freaks here today…”

And then his eyes level with Crispin’s.

For a fleeting moment, there sees to be almost a spark of recognition – of FEAR – in the General’s eyes…

But then just as quickly it is gone, and the glassy stare of madness returns.

And what is you, errand-boy?” he growls. “A looky-likey act?”

Yes, General,” says Crispin, smoothly. “A lookalike act.”

Who plays the piano,” I squeak, before I can stop myself.

Fortunately, the General has priorities other than insolence.

Good,” he says. “I believe I has an opening for an ivory tickler.”

And he turns away, heading back for his cabin.

Yes,” Corporal Punishment remarks, as the rest of us all breathe freely again. He strokes the long carved bone inserted through his nose thoughtfully. “I can see his opening from here.”

Windsor Davies and Don Estelle from It Ain’t Half Hot Mum sing ‘Whispering Grass’ 🙂

More mindless mayhem: The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum

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