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.
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.
“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
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