Mythaxis

The Tale of God's Flotsam


Tom Davies


Have Heep and Fangles met their match this time?

A scorched black stain spread across the metal transmission sheet. The edges of the stain continued to run outwards as the metal area at its centre grew thinner, until, with a creak and a sharp, small pop, it corroded into a ragged hole. Then, with the edges of the hole glowing orange and hissing with a miniscule yet ravenous hunger, the hole began to spread and spread and spread…

Heep was holding the sheet gingerly at the edges, as if it were made of gossamer or spider’s-web, trying not to pull it taut in order to avoid breaking it. She scratched the dark red cartilage surface of her brow with one pointed, metallic antler and sighed. The transmission sheet was made of gold-plated aluminium and was two inches thick, yet the hole at its centre had now grown so large that she could push her head through it, and she hadn’t the slightest clue what was causing it.

A bilious nasal grumble issued from somewhere behind her as Fangles sniffed the air. He asked her if things were still burning and she answered that yes, Fangles, things were still burning, and that, actually, they’re speeding up, thanks for asking. Never a fan of sarcasm, Fangles blew bubbles out of his trunks and showed Heep his arse.

The sky seemed to be contracting around them both. A raw, pulsating sky laced and lined with long drifts of capillary clouds. Hot brown rain dripped through the air. The ionosphere had appeared to be at least five miles above them a day ago, but now it was surely more like one. The world was closing in around them like a mouth.

Heep watched as the slender circuit of sizzling flame seemed to leap off the disintegrating metal sheet like an incendiary flea, landed on the slanted alloy side wall of their buggy, grazing redly in zigzags and spirals.

The fire had already scored its way across their tents and their relay antenna (cutting that down like a hacked sapling), and as Heep followed its progress with a clinical gaze, Fangles emitted an explosive bellow as a hot fizzle of flame began to bore out an inch deep crater in his left flank.

And surrounding them, in a perfect circle, ushering tails of dirty yellowing smoke into the clammy air, flames flickered up sharply like shards of glass embedded in the ground. Heep dragged the communications box from the rags of her tent and whirled the dials to produce a momentum signal. She clicked the heavy brass switches and consulted her pocketbook, flipping in vain through the pages.

Rapley, she thought, we must ring Rapley.

But oddly, neither of them had his number.

A moth flattered the toilet light bulb with its inconsiderable attention. Wings flapping in a blur like pygmy sails, proboscis jabbing and tapping at the heated, translucent plastic. Moth body launching itself in religious fervour against the scriptured legend - ’60 WATT’.

Rapley felt the thrown shadow of the insect flutter and flicker across him, blown out of all reasonable size. Its speed was the speed of a smaller thing and was quite utterly out of place in this scaled up human world. We do things slowly here, he thought. He was seated on the throne, flicking through a rather piquant monograph on the London sewer system.

An urgent ringing from the other side of the locked door tugged at his attention and he folded the page and performed his après-toilette procedures. ‘Bertha! A simple ‘Rapley residence’ would be splendid if you could see fit.?’ He opened the door and clicked off the light switch. Behind him, a moth screeched curses of fundamentalist disappointment and religious deprivation in tiny, inaudibly high-pitched chatter.

Rapley ran a bony hand through his mop of hay-coloured hair. He languidly glided into the lounge, where Bertha lay draped over a hanging basket chair, her small frame and unruly dark hair giving her the appearance of a reclining feline. Bertha had made no effort to raise herself from the chair, choosing instead to continue writing a shopping list or work of prose fiction upon her left palm and wrist: ‘bricolage, pests, revivalist sculpture, some versions of me..’, it began. She looked up at Rapley through her darkly hazel hedge of a fringe, blue eyes glinting with mystery like a nearly-solved cryptic crossword puzzle.

Rapley tucked his shirt into the waistband of his corduroy drainpipes and lifted the mewling receiver from the cradle. ’22 The Knoll.’

‘Rapley? Violet. Developments of a mysterious bent have come to pass. Might I suggest we meet at the Bloomsbury Bowling Alley. The Ramp Cinema. Dosun’s closed the doors to the public just for us.’

‘Good morning to you too. Will there be drinks?’

‘Bring your own.’

‘Cheap, Violet, very cheap. Shall we say an hour?’

The dread flesh trees were swaying the meat fringes of their branches and chanting low incantations of sorrow. Heep had set up a rough perimeter by smashing up every single thing she and Fangles owned and superheating them into a fused curved wall of glass. The resulting fence seemed to be keeping those things at bay, but their repeated slobberings and wipings against the opaque curves had initiated a chemical reaction of some sort. Acidic weepings from their trunks and tendrils were bubbling against the glass, destructive saliva eating through the screen, slowly but unstoppably.

The apparitions of flesh and branch had risen from the soggy sand so swiftly that Fangles and Heep had at first assumed that they had always been there, just peripherally unnoticed. However, a quick visual sweep of the terrain revealed legions of them slurping and hoisting themselves from the mulching ground, like unwanted prizes unearthing themselves gruesomely from a vast tombola.

Fangles had taken this idea on board and was currently attempting to dig through the sand beneath his hooves. Shovelling with his trunk and scraping with his horns. Stamping with rage every time he hit a fresh bed of undiggable rock.

Heep looked up at the sky once more and raised both antlers into the air, sensing and processing the air currents and wind fallows. The sky was most definitely lowering, forcing the gusts of atmospheric wind into harsher, more concentrated jets.. but, also, the horizon was stretching, lengthening without receding into the curve of any known rounded planet. She could see into the distance further than the eye could see, and the vertigo of it all ensured that she remained seated, hands firmly on the ground, her head swimming with the impossibility of it all.

‘Fangles?’ she sighed. ‘do we have a Plan B?’

Rapley tapped the glass with his knuckles. There was a general stoppered rumble of voices from within and a rustle and clinking of things.

The glass pane of the Bowling Alley’s front door was bottle-thick, and Rapley and Bertha peered closer as a face-shaped form loomed up to the other side of the pane. The dappled glass sent his face into small curved crescents, but it was unmistakably Mr Violet’s gimlet eyes and buffalo moustache.

Raindrops dribbled down the pane, Violet mouthed a muffled hello and yanked the door inwards.

‘Marvellous, marvellous. And Bertha! Rather a day for it. Won’t you..?’

The small compact man known to Pasha Rapley as 'my dearest friend and largest compensation for living in this wretched festival of bone-idle humanity' waggled his moustache and invited them inside. Mr Violet was dressed in his usual outift of rough brown tweed two-piece suit, knitted tie and brothel creepers. The breast pocket of his jacket was lined with pens, each one different, each liberated from bookies, banks or post offices.

They trotted wetly into the Ramp Cinema, which served as the entrance hall of the Bloomsbury Bowling Alley. It consisted merely of a long, thin room and a declining floor, which had the effect of tipping it’s inhabitants downwards towards a door at the other end.

On the far wall hung a wobbly projection screen, dusted with web and grime. Short rows of seats filled the left hand side of the room, and it was onto these that the two newcomers clung to avoid the comical freefall which gravity was strongly recommending to their bodies.

‘Ah, Mr Rapley!’ boomed a fruity and familiar voice from a lower and more shadowed row. ‘And wet companion! Welcome, welcome, pull up a pew, divest yourself of worldly troubles and feel free to smoke..’

A chubby, round, florid face bobbed from the shadows like ten pounds of raw ham. Three grey steel-wool clouds of hair tufted briskly from the centre of the crown and above the ears. Fat, blueing bags wobbled under the tea-coloured eyes, and a multitude of chins expressed their eloquent doubts about healthy eating.

‘Dosun.’ Nodded Rapley with an absence of warmth.

‘Dosun.’ Said Bertha, experimentally. Toying with the cadences of the name in the same way a cat might chew a mouse’s tail for the heck of it.

Clothed in a thick three-piece sack of claret corduroy, Dosun bustled along the row of seats, waggling his fingers in the air like a deluded pianist. ‘Things are afoot, Pasha. Bears stalk the woods and I allude here not to yellow teddies with buttons for eyes.’

The smallest of sooty coughs came from the furthest, deepest corner of the slanting room. A woman of middling years and an erect, hawklike aspect stepped forward into the light. Buckled shoes, a wigwam of white hair streaked with a yellowing of nicotine, a dress suit of dull green, like darkness seen through a wine bottle. She could have been a cashier, she could have been a traitor.

‘Mr Rapley? My name is Catherine Paranda. I represent The Interior, and we need your help.’

Pasha sat daintily on the armrest of a chair and sipped a cigarette. ‘The Interior..’ he sighed. ‘Oh, bugger. Tell me, Catherine. What rich seam of swivel-eyed incompetence have you and your colleagues in the Ministry been mining now?’

Dosun spluttered, growing ruddier and boxing the air with the tiny meatballs of his fists. ‘Blarney! Faff! Drivel! Stop it, sir! Represent me! You weren’t too proud to assist them before, Rapley!’

Rapley languidly stretched his arms out wide, following this with the most theatrical of yawns. Bertha copied him, her gawping mouth opening like a basking shark’s.

‘I was exceptionally bored, and had run out of books to read, I seem to remember.’

Mr Violet snuffled a reminiscent laugh. ‘The Affair of the Haunted Particle Accelerator. A real tangle, that one..’

‘Nearly fried in that second Big Bang, Violet, old son.’

‘Thank god for your key to the Underverse; sweeping all that radiation under the carpet was a masterstroke.’

‘Yes, but what breed of supermonsters are, even as we speak, breeding in supermassive black hole XS-897.’

‘Can’t be worse than the Fabergé Beast!’

‘Or the Trehemoth!’

‘Or the Marvellous Marjoram Mouse!’

‘Oh heavens, no!’

‘Gentlemen.’ said Catherine Paranda, flicking her thumb absentmindedly against a brooch on her lapel, as if it were a sheriff’s badge. ‘Memory Lane must wait. Dosun? Is the girl cleared? May I speak freely?’

Dosun shuffled towards Bertha and peered at her closely, inches from her face, squeezing one eye tightly shut to increase the incisive perspicacity of his character judgements. He waved a hand in the air and swayed back to his seat, swatting flies that weren’t there. ‘Oh probably, probably, don’t you know, one of Rapley’s, should be hrumphumphumph..’

Bertha leant her head to one side and smiled with wet eyes, as if this were the sweetest thing she’d ever heard. She may even have written him a poem.

‘As you know, we in The Interior run things. I shouldn’t need to qualify the ‘things’ we run, but I will. The city operates like clockwork due to our hands on the keys. A balance has been created between the various currents and strata operating in or flowing through the city. If a Starburger closes on Mare St, we significantly lower the hygiene standards of the toilets in The Garrick club. If a wolf escapes from London Zoo and gnashes its way through the squirrels of Regent’s Park, we release the Black Cat into the streets of South London again to graze on however many mongrels and tabbies it can stuff down it’s throat. If it rains on Tuesday, we’ll make damnably sure the sun is radiant on Friday.’

‘Except during Wimbledon fortnight! Ha!’ guffawed Dosun, greasily.

‘Don’t burble, Dosun, it’s unseemly.’ said Rapley without looking at him. ‘Continue.’

Paranda took a seat. ‘Ordered variety, in short. A balance, as I say, but one that isn’t so obviously ordered that it is detectable. If people knew the extent of our work..Well, they don’t. That’s enough for us. My point is, we keep things ticking along. Everyone playing their parts. A balance.’

Rapley tapped his heels against the chair legs. ‘My lack of sympathy with your task is almost biblical. Get to the point, if point you possess. I’m missing a rather good documentary about otters for this.’

Catherine Paranda made a church from her fingers and rested the steeple upon her nose. ‘We have a governing body, a select circle within The Interior. Their influence upon events is impossible to overstate. Magisterial..? No no..’ She crinkled her eyes shut and almost gasped with the pain of it all.

Bertha looked at Mr Violet and mouthed ‘Is she ok in the head’. Mr Violet cupped a hand around his lips and mouthed ‘Not really’.

Paranda shook the moment off and continued. ‘They think things, and they come true. They predict and analyse and intuitively project. It is almost as if they are reading the future from an autocue.’ Paranda pulled at the hem of her dress.‘They make the city dance. It’s a happy mixture of genes and background and nurtured abilities, of course. Plucked from their provincial nests as children, or sometimes noticed at school or university, they have been chosen for their psychical broadcast strengths and the cast-iron infallibility of their persuasive psychologies. They are both tools and operators. Above human, and therefore quite utterly what humanity needs in a gentle shepherd.’

Dosun spread his fingers out like sunrays and held his hands, palms upwards, underneath his eyes. ‘They are a prism. They refract the future.’ He whispered reverently.

‘Yes, yes’ muttered Rapley, looking up at the ceiling. ‘So this council is made up of people whose sensitivity to trends, fashions and possible future obstacles to your much-vaunted notion of stability is such that they can anticipate and eliminate nasty surprises for you. They can read the runes, pick through the headlines, the graffiti, taste the data soup in the atmosphere and then psychically project the wishes of The Interior and manifest these wishes as actual, observable behavioural differences.’

He stopped to take a breath. Violet lit three cigarettes and handed them round.

‘Something of that nature,’ smirked Paranda. ‘You make it sound almost fascistic.’

Rapley glared at her through twirling horns of exhaled cigarette smoke. ‘The point?’

‘Ah. It actually concerns a couple of friends of yours. You see, one of the council had not been well for some time. Neurasthenic anyway, the mental pressures of the job are rather intense, he recently had something of a breakdown. Absolutely cracked, but with signs of extraordinary mental activity detected by our CAT scans. We have contingencies for all occasions, of course, and so we sent in a couple of specialist housecleaners to scrub and dust and blow the cobwebs away, so to speak. Repair any fractures they could find.’

‘In? You sent them in?’ said Bertha. ‘In where? In him? Are they very small?’

‘’Not small!’ interjected Dosun. ‘It’s done by projection. Sort of. We magnify and expand the mental territory and then project by means of synaptical bridges. We map the bridges through linkages of electricity, then-‘

‘Then they say a few spells and send in the troops.’ Rapley turned to Paranda. ‘And what happened?’

‘The mind turned cannibal. Closed in on them and hemmed them in with madness. Our people are trapped in an entirely insane mental territory. And since this mental territory is the creation of a psychic genius who currently has a hissing snake’s heart where his cognitive reasoning should be, it’s slightly different from the sort of spring-cleaning job we’re normally equipped for.’

‘This councillor with the cracked lightbulb for a brain, you say he’s some sort of thought radiator?’

‘Yes, in crude layman’s terms.’

‘Is he conscious?’

‘No, comatose.’

‘And if he wakes, and is still afflicted by mental imbalance?’

‘He’ll project. And will change the city. I would imagine, given his history, at the very least the river will fill with bile, Big Ben will throb and ejaculate, all mothers will turn feral, the ravens will eat the Tower. There will be more.’

‘And if you kill him, your people are dead?’

‘Quite. And they’re rather good. Not expendable. But, more importantly, this prismic individual is irreplaceable. We shan’t kill him.’

‘Friends of mine, you said?’

‘Heep. Heep and Fangles.’

‘Ah.’

Rapley looked at Mr Violet.

‘Ah,’ said Violet.

‘For the first time,’ said Rapley, doing up his tie and flexing his shoulders, ‘in this long and sorry afternoon, you have our full and undivided attention.’

A slurry of spittoon-rinse rain smattered against Heep’s tin head. Her eyes looked like snails anyway, but this atmospheric assault sent them writhing into the devil’s own molluscs. They seemed to coil in anger.

Fangles was having his own problems. Several hundredweights of rain had matted his shaggy fur, doubling his body mass until he felt as if walking were akin to attempting an escape from an event horizon.

The undulating ground tongued their feet and hooves.

They had broken out of their precarious glass perimeter some minutes earlier, chomping and hacking and splintering the fleshy bark of the arboreal guards using hoof and claw and thin, tin fingers.

A spiteful howl blitzkrieged through the air, a deviant, entirely sexual throb pulsed and drummed through the landscape and time seemed to eat its own tail.

They had been moving slowly but purposefully through the red rain and the scorching winds for hours, but it had only been three minutes at the most since their lunge for freedom. Fangles and Heep both had the unsettling feeling that someone was moulding existence like plasticine – movement, time, thoughts, bodies and all. There was a pressure to everything. Lightning flashed from above. An obscene giggle tickled their ears.

But there, ahead of them, looming nonsensically, they saw an old, grey-green filing cabinet with swing-open doors. Standing tall and proud, pummelled and draped with great sloshes of water, it looked positively sea-bound.

Fangles shook his waterlogged mane in slow motion, summoned all his monstrous strength and opened his mouth to speak. Three pints of brownish liquid spilled out. ‘..Will we fit..?’ he said.

‘If we don’t’, spluttered Heep, ‘ You’re on your own, son.’

‘Can’t leave you, Heep. You wouldn’t last a minute.’ He blew vast snotty bubbles of rain from his nostrils. ‘You’ve got all the street nous of a work of brass filigree.’

‘We’ll fit.’

They slithered to the door and yanked it open against the airborne tide.

Urns of boiling incense puffed magenta smoke into the Ramp Cinema; sticks of jasmine fluted thin jets of hissing, scented steam into the air. Dosun and Paranda, both stripped to the waist and bedaubed in smudgy glyphs and sigils, chanted low drones of a Latin flavour. Paranda pressed a button on the wall and the grubby projector screen lowered falteringly, whirring with old age.

The three travellers re-entered the room.

Mr Violet had changed into a rough safari suit and ragged pith helmet, ‘Penge Or Bust’ scrawled on the side of the millinery in faded chalk.

‘Into the snakepit!’ shouted Violet with a grin

Bertha had chosen moonboots and a large metallic-blue fur-lined parka jacket. Grey fur. Bright orange lining. Mittens on strings.

And Rapley? Rapley had donned black leather gloves but otherwise remained unchanged – the brown corduroy trousers, the red plastic mackintosh, a collapsible umbrella sticking out of his pocket like a jutting hipbone.

Rapley picked up a canvas bag containing sandwiches, thermos and Mr Violet’s small, black revolver. ‘Time we were off.’

‘Hrffrffrrghhh?’ said Bertha.

Rapley leant forward and unzipped the hood of her parka.

‘I said, will this work, Pash?’

They all glanced at the projector screen with cocked eyebrows. Dark forms had begun to coalesce. Scratched celluloid jumped and razored images of a throbbing landscape, red rain, dripping flesh, smashed glass, a ripped and ruined tent. Rapley slung the bag over his shoulder, sighed and walked towards the screen with long strides. ‘It’ll work. What’s the worst that could happen? We walk into the wall and look like idiots.’

‘Oh, perish the thought.’ Said Bertha, looking down at her oversized coat and drooping mittens.

Dosun was mooing to the ceiling, hands shining sunrays once more. Paranda, eyes closed, drew keys in the air with a sparking magnesium match.

‘Into the snakepit!’ shouted Violet with a grin as he, Rapley and Bertha hit the screen running and, with a shuddering jumpcut and a jerk of reality, found themselves within a lunatic.

Fangles and Heep: a sodden, many-limbed tumbleweed of fang and snout, tinplate and shaggy hide, washed up inside a filing cabinet surprisingly commodious for a mirage. The gradual unwinding of arm and foot and twisted necks began, with many a shuffle and growl and curses upon their respective mothers. A pair of back paws cycled with impossible speed and lethally blurred claws, but going nowhere, tunnelling holes out of the air without gaining purchase.

‘Fucking. Move.’ They both spat at the same time, one word each.

Fangles spun his head around a full rotation, grinding out a serving of aggression like a furry pepperpot. Heep hissed at the beast and her antlers jigged arhythmically, like weightless, bladed static.

They unfolded and sat, drained and soggy as used teabags. A harsh battering of water still drummed from outside. The rain’s shadows seemed to reach into the cabinet, as if dancing through glass. Everything glowed a sickly green.

Fangles and Heep looked around.

They were squashed into a corner, shelves at their backs. But everywhere they looked had a corner. Was a corner. A refraction of geometry and logic, an Escher print of shifting perspective and inverted perception.

For instance, Fangles stared into the corner of a deep, deep shelf. Yet that corner had a corner above it, which you sort of felt you had to tilt your head to look at properly, but then there was a corner to the left of that corner, which you kind of knew was actually upside down and in front of the corner it was behind. It spiralled, and you spiralled with it. And there was a spider scuttling around in a corkscrewing motion, hopping from corner to corner, but you couldn’t actually be sure whether it was a spider or a very black, spindly elephant half a mile away showing alarming signs of unnatural athleticism.

Fangles, his head twisting round and upside down till it appeared to be deforming and melting in a fairground mirror, bellowed once, then fainted on the floor with a sound like a whale falling into a skip. Heep reached her serrated fingers into the shaded recesses of the nearest shelf with the express intention of rifling through a stack of closely typed papers. With a crack to rival the birth of a universe, she shot through the metal partition, tumbling into the green void of uncertainty beyond, her body twisting like a kite.

The gruff, snuffling animal opened his eyes into a whooshing visual smear. His peripheral vision was a writhing, dancing carnival of a place as his hurtling body rushed forward at fireball speeds. A world was flashing past him, present steaming into the past at an astonishing pace. He forced his eyes wider against the pressure and stared into the future.

He was seated in another green cabinet, supine against the back as it slid like a toboggan down a rickety wooden railway track, sparks flying from the smouldering back edges of the cabinet, their trace tracks forming cat’s whiskers in the air. Ahead of him, more track, dipping and looping and glowing the blackest of reds, a twisting helix ember burnt down to the core of things.

He blinked his fat, heavy eyes. The matted bags underneath them wrinkled like mouldy concertinas.

The cabinet swooped and corkscrewed. More sparks flew and a section of track behind him puffed like a fingered spore and was gone.

He stared down at his claws and shanks, then prodded his massive face experimentally.

What was his name again?

‘FAAAAAANNNNNGLLLESSSSS’

The flabby and bemused creature looked up as a screech zipped overhead, a zooming disembodied voice whipping from right to left carried in a hurtling tin carriage which rattled precariously along on its own arcing set of track.

Was that some new cuss word? Some harsh and abusive oath? He felt reasonably sure he knew them all, and that was a new one on him.

‘FAAANNNNGGGLEEESSSSSS’

The voice missiled across underneath him and he leant a bristled and whiskered cheek against the lip of the cabinet, his jowls dripping over the edge like congealing custard.

The atmosphere like hot coals against their cheeks

It was a tin lady with knives for fingers and raw, red skin on her face like some ornate Mexican wrestler’s mask. He used to wrestle, didn’t he? He seemed to remember they always looked at him with shock, horror and awe. Asking him incredulously to take off his own mask, his body suit, the weaponry or bladed gloves upon his hands. But there weren’t any. It was all him. Then.. then what?

‘YOU ARE POMPADOUR ALOYSIUS FANGLES III-‘

Oh, he couldn’t keep up with this noisy ruckus. It was like being stalked by a malfunctioning car alarm. The cabinet careered over a set of points, lurching him from side to side.

‘RAVENOUS MAJOR IN EXEGESIS OF THE SEVENTH ARMED CARNAL, HYPERIOTIC SPACE MALOUCHE-‘

The tin lady arced again like a burnt rainbow across his head. His brain throbbed. He needed a drink. He needed to be tucked up in ‘The Hat and Feathers’ on the Israel Road with Gibbs, with Helmholtz, the floor littered with reddened corks. He-

‘VIOLENCE! THINK ABOUT VIOLENCE AND MAGIC! ABOUT DICE AND GUITAR STRINGS AND LUCKY HORSESHOES AND MERMAIDS!’

Mermaids? Neptune’s daughters? Brine and sweat and turmoil in the water? A thrashing vortex of foam and undertow? Love in the ocean? Seven brides for seven beasts for seven seas? His girls in every port? His. He. Him. Heep?

‘Heep?’ Fangles stopped rubbing himself and peered down at the whizzing tin figure. ‘Fuck you doing? Where are we?’

Right, he thought, quite enough of this pussyfooting. He raised himself up onto his mighty haunches against the scathing velocities and crashed his back paws straight through the cabinet floor, splintering metal and screws. His paws cracked through the burning wood tracks like an anchor. In an instant the entire carriage whipcracked onto its end. Fangles stood still, rooted to the tracks and the metal floor tore around him as it upended, leaving a ragged body-shaped hole.

He swayed for a while as the zinging and crunching sounds receded from his hearing, then he opened his eyes and picked the bits of metal from his hide.

‘FAAANNNGG-‘

Fangles instinctively threw a paw towards the blur of sound and scooped Heep from her speeding carriage. She dangled there, held by one tin leg. Sparks in the air. The atmosphere like hot coals against their cheeks. A droning fury of wind.

‘Down boy’ she said, smiling.

He slung her over his hunchbacked shoulders and jumped off the disintegrating track into the crimson mists below.

‘One might approach this with an over-zealous sense of reassembly,’ yawned Rapley as the golden Carousel horse bobbed through the scarlet fog.

Above him sparks glinted in the sky like distant constellations. There was a muffled clatter amongst the cloud tops.

‘But, from what I can see, it isn’t a question of frantic surgical repair. Rather, I feel we should concentrate on getting to the heart of things. If a psyche can be said to have a heart, that is.’

He drifted off vaguely, fishing a mint from his pocket.

Mr Violet, his feet jammed into stiff, wooden stirrups, was almost throttling his teak steed in an effort not to fall off. The horse had emeralds for eyes and a furred cobra for a tail, which hissed and spat behind him.

The two carousel nags had swooped down casually from the air as soon as they had crossed over, hovering silently next to them like a taxi rank. So they had obliged. The horses seemed to know where they were going.

Mr Violet looked up into the smoiling clouds, aware of an indistinct droning. ‘I feared the pressures of a hand squeezing within my soul as soon as we materialised here, attempting to shred and then consume who I am. Threatening my personality with its digestive enzymes. It’s a good thing I can’t be bothered to actually have a personality these days. Rather moves the goalposts for the poor man, don’t you think?’

Bertha nodded and mouthed something noncommittal. With her hands around Rapley’s waist, she was staring open-mouthed at the scenery. She felt herself blurring into this exquisitely brutal territory, the edges of herself bleeding into the man’s searing mental landscape.

In the far distance on either side, she could see sharp ridges of mountainous terrain. But ridges turned on their side so that they were facing inwards towards them. Black peaks turned an ominous grey by the fog which drifted around them in a nebulous dance; a veil of sweet-smelling coppery gauze.

The fog sweated the three travellers like a volcanic sauna. Bertha felt an insistent and distracting but not entirely unpleasant ache in her stomach. Violet had vomited twice into his pith helmet. Rapley had sighed and munched a cheese and tomato sandwich. ‘If you feel yourself dissipating or forgetting who you are, let me know and I’ll remind you. I know disgusting secrets about the both of you, after all, and one of them is sure to shock you back into something approaching sentient self-awareness. Need I mention Chelsea pensioners?’

Here, Mr Violet paused from his regurgitation to wince and redden.

‘Or sodomy, rum and the lash?’

A grin flicked across Bertha’s face.

‘I shall deploy them if necessary, so hang on to your egos.’

The drone from above turned into a cometary roar. A bow wave of pressure cleared a ten foot wide gap in the mists ahead of them and a smear of bodies crashed into the ground.

Not letting the dust settle, Heep popped out of the impact crater, snapping her arm back into place, antlers shivering with the shock of the landing. ‘Ooooh jesus yes… Rapley! Ah. Fascinating country this, but needs demolition. Or régime change, certainly.’

Rapley beamed and slid off the equine, throwing a crust over his shoulder. ‘Heep! My regimental beauty! Perfectly simple job, this. Knew you’d screw it up.’

Bertha hmphed and waited for an introduction.

A snuffling from the crater. Mr Violet scuttled to the lip, helmet in hand like an alms bowl.

‘Oh, Pompey? Little Pompey? Refreshing soup. A broth for you after your exertions.’, he cooed.

A wrinkled and mud-caked trunk quivered its way out of the hole and slopped heavily into the proffered pith helmet, slurping up the chunky expulsion.

‘FLLAAUURRGGHHHH!’

The pink soup fountained up into the air in a thick spray, followed by the leaping form of Fangles, bowling Mr Violet over like a skittle. The thrashing figures rolled and punched and kicked before coming to a panting, guffawing halt.

‘Violet!’ Fangles grinned through his demented fangs. ‘You’re dressed like Roger Moore!’

Mr Violet ruffled his friend’s fur and scratched behind one of his huge bent ears with both hands.

‘Still ugly as sin, you wretched old hound!’ His moustache shook with joy.

They convened as a group to the relative comfort of a raised stone plateau. From this lofty position Rapley and Heep glared out over the landscape. Mr Violet, Bertha and the excitable Fangles, thick tail wagging dangerously like a flailing club, shared out tea and sandwiches and loaded blue bullets into the stealthy, matt black revolver.

‘Calcinates’, explained Heep unhelpfully, ‘And sodium, acids of course, variegated coagulants, vitamin mountains, beds of cancer cells, corals of them, in fact.’

Rapley flicked an index finger down his lips, popping sounds punctuating the list.

‘Bloods. A landscape of assorted interior quantities seamed with blood. It’s immeasurable, Rapley. How do we find a part of him nucleic enough to do damage to?’

Rapley clicked his heels together and whistled into the air.

‘Every time we consider ourselves to have reached a solid target, we are either marauded by a cacophony of anguished, malignant cell growths, or begin to lose all sense of our own selves. We need direction! A map! An unravelled ball of twine... something!’

Rapley drew triangles in the dust with his boot tips.

Heep tinked her spurs against the rocky ground. ‘Rapley!’

But he just peered at the triangle and mused: ‘Scalene..?’

‘Twerp! Listen to me!’ She stamped her sheet metal slippers, the claws within scratching the tin with the briefest of hidden sparks.

Rapley strode to the edge of the low plateau, hands clasped tight behind his back. He pouted and paused. Shook his head at some debate inside his own bulbous brain. ‘Really, Heep’, he said at last, ‘The Interior? It’s beneath you. I mean, why…?’

‘Ah,’ said Heep.

He looked around his nose at her.

‘Rapley, they offered me a laboratory. All the Bunsen burners and tubular vascillators and basking circuitry and reiki baffles and zinc malchemides I could ever, ever need.’

Rapley frowned at his fingernails. ‘Still…,’ he said, his voice clipped and hurt.

Heep rested the sharp fingers of one hand softly against his cheek. ‘You remember when I took Fangles on. You told the two of us to go and see the worlds. All of them. And to look after each other. You glazed that slogan onto a teapot for us: ‘Dreams die, that’s what they’re there for, just dream, don’t wake up, be careful.’ So we have been. And we’ve tempered the excesses of The Interior wherever possible. Me and the beast help people. From within, admittedly, but we help. Fangles gets mermaids, did he tell you that? They love him. They call him the Elvis Whale.’

Rapley smiled gently but his eyes disagreed. ‘The Interior are contemptuous,’ he announced, ‘and as dismissive and disdainful as flamingoes. They insult the intelligence. And to be insulted by such fascists is so degrading.’

‘I agree. But we’re clipping its feathers bit by bit with our patience, our damnable good moral taste and our very specific and well-directed acts of disobedience and violence.’

‘A slow job. And questionable, I think. Questionable.’

‘The job. We must finish it, old pal.’

‘Yes, yes. I know.’

‘Then we’ll parlay. Debate and decide.’

‘Well, yes.’

‘We need to find him. Get to the brain. Turn all this off.’

‘Of course.’

‘Lord knows how, though.’

‘Horses.’

’Horses?’

‘Oh, didn’t I tell you? They said they’d take us to him. He likes the attention, you see.’

Heep’s entire body sighed. ‘Well then why are we..? Oh, why bother..’ She turned and stomped back to the others, flicking a brace of fingers at the smugly grinning Mr Rapley.

So they mounted the wooden horses, with their gaudy painted frills and their viscous eyes like soft egg yolks bulging to the point of collapse through their mahogany sockets.

Rapley and Heep, delicately side-saddled, sat on one. Bertha and the bilious Violet atop the other. Fangles, complaining of aching knees and churning guts, pounded along the ground beneath them under his own considerable steam, his hide reddening with every step from the crimson dust.

Rapley craned his head round to the front of his nag, ear to its carved, pursed mouth, as it gently whispered to him. A sound blown with the merest of pressures and efforts, like a child murmuring on the edge of sleep. ‘I see.’, he said. And, ‘Well, that’s really awfully good of you,’

He patted the crest of its elaborately carved mane and turned to the others. ‘We go higher, apparently.’ he elucidated.

Fangles snuffled gruffly and said that was easy for you to say.

The horses gracefully swooped upwards, four pairs of hands grabbing and scrabbling for purchase as a practically vertical route was chosen into the sparking, howling sky. The rushing g-forces flapped their cheeks and billowed their clothing like the epileptic spirits of washing lines. Bertha’s head and neck had been pushed owlishly round almost one hundred and eighty degrees and as she struggled again to face the underbellies of the dense nimbic formations, she caught sight of Fangles below, padding slowly and disconsolately to a stop, panting and staring up at them with liquid eyes. His forehead wrinkled and his jowls drooped, he stomped a back foot, knowing it would achieve nothing.

Then there was a sudden change in pressure, an expulsion of fluted air honed to a shriek of intent issuing from the wooden animal Rapley and Bertha were clinging to.

The moment hung in the air along with the two horses as they drew horizontal and level enough for the four passengers to exchange looks of considerable panic and not a little regret.

And with that, the carousel horses spun heads down to face the earth.

And they plummeted.

The ground beneath them appeared to be coring itself. Fangles leapt back and turned the air blue as the earth cracked and twisted itself in a flurry of deconstruction.

The four airborne adventurers widened their eyes and said their fair share of extravagant curses as the determined nags shrieked their yells of approach and met ground level.

When they opened their eyes, presuming that they would be greeted by magnificent vistas of Elysium and the afterlife, Rapley, Bertha, Heep and Mr Violet were vaguely disappointed and yet thrillingly relieved to find themselves in a deep, dark, vertical shaft, the sky a distant circle far above them. They were falling, or, more accurately, bouncing from side to side down the narrow fall space, and all scrabbled successfully for hand and footholds amongst the wooden scaffolding poles which lined the shaft.

As they steadied themselves, they became aware of the two wooden horses slowly circling below like sleek painted sharks, their snouts raised towards them watchfully.

Rapley brushed splinters from his fringe and spoke. ‘Thank you both, a most exhilarating experience. I presume the only way is down?’

The horses gracefully dipped and raised their handsome heads. Rapley’s nag, a resplendent beast of paisley dapples and sea green mane breathed sounds that remained below the reach of most human ears.

Rapley glared back at them, chin set firm and resolute. The others hung on tight to their respective nooks and crannies and leant forward to try and catch the enigmatic conversation.

When Rapley spoke, his voice was thick. ‘But why? Why would he..’

The second circling horse rubbed itself roughly against the side of the shaft, seeming to exult in the touch of the rough earth. It exhaled language softly and looked up at him with tired eyes.

Rapley stiffened. ‘I see.’ He said at length, and then turned to his companions. ‘Don’t look. Please. They wish to be remembered as they were.’ He turned his eyes to the wall.

The others hesitantly followed his lead. Bertha yanked down her hood. Heep lowered a visor over her eyes and averted her gaze. Violet pushed his pith helmet down over his face like a fencing mask. None of them quite knew why.

A set of keys upon a brass ring, each one gently pulsing, squirmed like maggots

The air beneath them buzzed and crackled. A chafing, sawing grind filled their ears. But it was only when the low moaning began that Bertha tugged the hood back from over one eye and stared straight down. The carousel horses were being sanded away in midair. Invisible implements turning their bodies into frantic showers of woodchip and dust til all that was left was a horses sea green head grinning with wide, bulging, crying eyes. Then even that was gone. Bertha watched them disappear with the still, expressionless, attentive look of a child seeing its first ever act of human violence.

‘Why did he do that?’ she breathed, almost without moving her lips.

‘They told me what he was going to do to them, and I asked them that same question,’, sighed Pasha. ‘They replied "there’s no whys with him. It just happens"’

Rapley manoeuvred himself into a sitting position on a jutting rail of scaffold and sparked a gasper. He looked below and a fiendish grin cut his face. ‘Journey to the centre of the Earth, anyone?’

They could hear Fangles mooing and roaring far above them at the lip of the shaft, but Heep yelled at him to stay where he was, to guard the entrance and guide them back to the surface when necessary. He wasn’t happy about this exclusion but nevertheless accepted that his bovine lack of physical delicacy would have made his journey down the narrow hole counterproductive at the very least.

They lit matches and stared into the nooks and shelves formed by the crisscrossing, roughly hewn scaffold bars, all the while ponderously clambering further down the dank and musty shaft.

On their descent, they caught sight of a variety of shadowy and obscene objects.

  • A cat’s head in a pickle jar, gazing blankly out at them, reciting nursery rhymes as they passed.
  • A rank of rusty tin soldiers with their dress trousers around their ankles enacted a circular chain of buggery with military synchronisation.
  • A map or diagram of a head, the brain inside the skull stretching inexorably back from the frontal lobe, squashed against the back of the expanded skull into a coiling, looping tail. The very tip of it poked through the skin.
  • A set of keys upon a brass ring, each one gently pulsing, squirmed like maggots.
  • An ancient set of tea mugs depicting a royal wedding, filled to the brim with toenail cuttings and a gentleman’s wristwatch, hands ticking backwards past all twenty three points of the clock face.
  • A wax effigy of a baby with a young girl’s head, fingers melting towards the surface of the scaffold til they resembled marionette strings leading nowhere.
  • A binoculars-style kaleidoscope which, when held to the eyes, revealed a prismic view of the many and varied ends of the world, all shattered into tiny fragmentary scenes. A tiny speaker hissed a soundtrack of applause and pounded meat.

Something occurred to Rapley and he stopped climbing and cocked his head to one side. He puffed up his cheeks and his feet performed a tap dance on a wooden strut. With a chortle he leapt back up the shaft, climbing over Heep and Mr Violet in his haste. Bertha swung to one side to avoid the whirl of elbows, knees and manic giggles scampering past her.

Rapley thrust his face into an alcove and came away with the cranial diagram. ‘A tube map!’ he announced, one eye clamped shut as he concentrated on the grimy piece of foolscap paper in front of him. ‘Next floor down, twenty paces as the stone falls, third beam inwards, chop it three times with a thin bladed knife and we reveal the legend behind the facade’

The others eyed him cautiously.

‘At least, I think that’s what it says’, he shrugged, ‘I’m having to read between the lines somewhat.’

With one hand holding the map close against his nose Rapley dropped down the shaft. The others scuttled after him like spiders. Twenty paces down they dropped one by one onto a jutting beam and knelt quietly as Rapley pulled a Swiss army knife from the band of Mr Violet’s pith helmet. The strange, thin man hacked three times at a wooden bar anchored deep into the dank, mossy wall. As three wood shavings sycamored through the air, the beam above the whittled bar gave an abrupt lurch and creaked up and down like a chopstick, its twin below joining it in this bizarre pantomime.

The four adventurers held on for dear life as the scaffold bars jacknifed ferociously, digging a wet and widening hole through the glistening moss wall.

‘Quickly!’ Yelled Rapley over the cacophony of clattering timber and shifting earth, ‘Through the very eye of the storm!’He dashed through the hole, narrowly avoiding the manic swishings of the scaffold tips. Bertha, Heep and the intrepid Violet followed suit, Violet holding his helmet over Bertha’s head like an umbrella against an April shower.

The hollow clashes of heavy wood receded as they tumbled to a stop on the other side, and when they righted themselves and turned to look, they found a sealed wall behind them. A hexagonal brass-framed mirror hung aslant, returning their gaze, it’s surface heavy with dust and smeared with a pattern of miniscule blood red lipstick kisses.

Heep rattled to her cloven feet and thrust a sharp finger into the nearest wall. It was sweaty and coloured a thickly opaque white that crimsoned to the touch like a blush. There was a sense of far off movement on the other side of the walls, like shadows through a winter mist or submerged animals rising from the depths of the ocean with a glacial lack of haste.

Bertha toppled upright onto the soles of her moonboots and cast glances to and fro. The corridor in which they found themselves stretched in front of them in a snaking curve, glowing embers in cast iron upturned mouths dimly lighting the way along the walls.

They became aware of a gnashing of tiny teeth and a rustling rush of footsteps from around the bend, distorted shadows zoomed towards them across the corridor floor, rippled and swayed from side to side by the flickering flames.

Rapley stepped forward and pulled a post-it note from his pocket, glancing down to decipher Dosun’s wildly looping handwriting. ‘Mr Andrews? We’re from the office. You’ve gone anticlockwise, old fruit, mind if we lend a hand?’

The chattering and scuffling grew louder and closer. The manic shadows danced across ceiling, floor and walls. Jagged, poking shadows. Shadows made by sharp edges.

Behind his back, Mr Violet withdrew his revolver from the bag and licked the fringe of his moustache. ‘Just say the word, Mr Rapley.’ he muttered, sotto voce.

And with that, the shadows burst into life. Stubby outstretched arms and legs and stunted ovoid bodies coalesced from the depths, dwarfish creatures grinning with mad intent. They scuttled and jabbered and whipped across ceiling and floor like a pestilential swarm of fear.

‘They... they all look the same!’ Said Violet, and indeed it was true. The creatures all resembled each other to a shocking extent: oafish faces empty of meaning, small features crowded into the middle of swollen balloon heads, upturned piggy noses and wet, thick dark red lips like a bicycle inner tube, a crown of ginger hair and shiny circles of fatigue under the eyes.

The creatures pounced on the four repulsed explorers, swarming over them in a ravaging mass, scratching and biting and throwing kicks like tiny hammer blows.

Bertha, nearer to them in size than her companions, slugged it out with a crowd of them, her deft and accurate uppercuts felling them one by one.

Violet used his pith helmet as a shield as he despatched blue bullets into the middles of their expansive foreheads.

Heep took the tops off their heads as if they were boiled eggs.

Rapley gave them a kicking.

‘There are too many of these perverted malcontents!’ yelled Rapley, ‘Run!’ He made a dash down the corridor, ploughing a furrow through the giggling, gnashing dwarves as he went. The others followed suit, crushing tiny bodies underfoot as they sped after him.

‘I have an inkling,’, mused Rapley as he ran, ‘that our cursed quarry may be dead ahead of us, lurking in his lair around the bend. Behold the walls!’

The other three turned their heads as they ran. The walls were widening as the corridor progressed, and what’s more the colour had blushed to a sickening crimson. The air throbbed with pressure, a hollow, bass moan shuddered the ground beneath their feet. Their ears popped and their jaws began to ache. Rapley slowed to a walk as the corridor opened into a large room.

A vast animal of a man lay slumped in one corner. The same ginger crown and miniscule features in an over-inflated head, but this was flesh on an altogether larger scale than the stunted knee-high freaks they had previously encountered. His bloated body was clad in an ill-fitting black suit. A white shirt, black tie and black boots completed the ensemble. His face was tear-streaked and his mouth convulsed in sobs of pain. He clutched a framed photo of an unremarkably pretty young woman in a frilled white shirt, smiling guilelessly at the camera.

Mr Andrews turned his gaze to his guests as he wiped a slick of tears away with a veritable beef joint of a hand.

Rapley peered at the man with undisguised pity and gave a curt bow. ‘Mr Andrews?’

The obese gentleman nodded through his sobs.

‘We have been seconded by the company to stitch you back together. It seems you have become somewhat unravelled.’

Mr Andrews held in front of him the picture of the girl in the white shirt, he gripped it in two hands like a steering wheel. His voice, when it came, was that of a slow and demented child. Like someone chewing an onion. ‘She has left the furniture in here. The mugs and carpets, the fittings remain but don’t work. There is no love.’

As he spoke, he stomped his feet in a tribal drumbeat. He slapped the side of his head with the steak of his palm. ‘My heart is gashed. And I am split in thousands. I shall damage some more things now.’

‘I have bullets left,’ hissed Violet out of the corner of his mouth.

‘We can’t shoot him,’ cautioned Heep, ‘Lord knows what’ll happen if we destroy his mental capacities completely. We may not survive the seismic shock.’

Rapley took a step closer towards the vast lovelorn brute. ‘Will you come quietly?’ he enquired.

Mr Andrews roared an almighty roar in reply. The force of it billowed Rapley’s mackintosh hems into a rippling trail. Bertha was blown like a tumbleweed against the far wall.

Rapley wiped spit off his face and coughed lightly. ‘Then it is war, sir.’

There was a crack and a fizz and a blink, and Rapley’s face seemed to puff up in much the same manner as his clothing and then it expanded to the size of an Easter Island Statue. His mouth flew open and emitted an elephantine bellow that sent Andrews spinning.

Then the two men flew against each other, Rapley dancing legs akimbo, arms whirling every which way, body arcing in physically impossible ways. Andrews swatted and gnashed at him, growling like a wounded universe. Electrical sparks buzzed and zapped around them as the others dived clear. Soon Rapley and Andrews were spinning in a whirl of dust and motion, blurred features and limbs barely distinguishable through the vortex.

‘Best stay out of this then..?’ muttered Bertha.

‘On balance, yes,’ nodded Violet.

Rapley’s head popped out of the maelstrom as it zipped round at dangerous speeds.

‘Need… Diversion…. Get… Beast..’

Heep ran to the corridor and shouted a single word.

‘FAAANNGGLLLLLEES!’

‘As far as I can tell,’ she explained to Bertha as she ran back into the room, ’this is an entirely psychic battle. It only has the appearance of a physical ruck.’

The ground shook with the promise of a fresh presence. A mighty panting issued from far down the corridor. They heard distant sounds of heavy breakages and of small things squelched underfoot.

‘GGGRRRRRRRAAAGGGHHHHHHHH!’

The many-hooved shaggy form of Pompadour Aloysius Fangles III shot into the room, bristly fur scraping the sides and ceiling of the room as he leapt through the air, trunk trumpeting the angriest of introductions.

He disappeared into the spinning blur of bodies, slamming against the heavier man with a sickening, bone-crunching thud.

They dropped to the floor as one, the air filled with a sonic boom of immeasurable decibels.

A slow quiet drift of dust and blinking eyes. The ambience breathed a slow and deep sigh of relief.

Rapley popped his head up from the other side of the two twitching, inert mammoths. ‘A most excellent anaesthetic!’ he grinned.

Heep gently led Fangles by his dented trunk as he tottered in a wide circle around the walls of the room. A slow revivification of his senses was taking place and it was unanimously agreed that Heep was the only person present who could talk him out of one of his violent moods if his sensory arousal turned sour. He had been known to eat whole alarm clocks.

The sonorously snoring body of Mr Andrews lay stretched out on a table. Rapley was knocking on various parts of his anatomy with an HB pencil and whispering invocations in a mellifluous French tongue. ‘There,’ he said, tucking the pencil behind his own ear, ‘I’ve locked him up as tight as you like.’

He turned to Bertha and Mr Violet. ‘What you witnessed was mere theatre, an externalisation of a rather absorbing conversation we were having on a more abstracted and rarified mental plane. Mr Andrews here was good enough to explain to me his current quandary of the heart. It seems his breakdown came about due to a soured love affair.’ He picked up the photograph of the girl. ‘Andrews was a titanic man, capable of moving the world with a twist of his thoughts. But he was not, I’m afraid, a strong or emotionally secure man. One in his position in the Interior must essentially have no heart or soul to speak of, must indeed be merely a tool or conduit for his own spectacular abilities, a receptacle with no room left for the vagaries of human doubt or those true clutches of the emotions that send all rationality spinning out of control like a sycamore leaf in a blast furnace. In a sociopathically standard operation such as the Interior one must have a dead soul. Andrews was not equipped with such, and, consequently, when love struck, he was euphoric. And when love died and turned to ashes in the harsh daylight of his own emotional immaturity, he was not equipped to just shrug it off.’

‘He went bonkers,’ nodded Bertha.

‘Quite. The young woman is Hildegard Boone. A woman of great kindness and tolerance, but not so much that she could continue to cope with the unfettered, bludgeoning and unrefined declarations of love proffered by Andrews after her first blush of infatuation with the man had run its course. When last he heard of her, she had fled to Hastings with tears shining her cheeks in order to run a boarding house. I suppose we may be thankful he didn’t pursue her. Lord knows Hastings is broken-hearted enough without being slathered in the externalised chaos of Mr Andrews’ churning romantic frustrations.’

‘He seems to have opened up to you considerably,’ said Violet optimistically, ‘Perhaps reason and sanity are returning and will prevail.?’

‘Ah. No. I gleaned most of the story between his cries, sobs and repeated attempts to remove the sanity from my person in the manner of a mental cutpurse. He’s quite mad. We mustn’t let him loose.’

A snuffle from the outskirts of the room, Fangles had awoken and was engaged in heated conversation with Heep.

‘Pasha! Fangles and I have been talking about that.’ Heep led the stumbling beast to the table.‘We have elected to stay inside him, at least for the foreseeable future. We think it would be interesting to take him for a drive.’

Rapley scratched his ears.

‘You see, if you can guarantee that whatever locks you’ve installed on his will won’t break, then we think a change of ownership would be morally acceptable. And scientifically I must admit that it gives me the horn to think about testing these broadcast capabilities of his.’

Fangles sniggered and a string of drool drooped from his jaws. ‘It’ll be Pilsner and mermaids as far as the eye can see.’

‘Well,’ said Rapley after a pause, ‘I suppose you couldn’t bugger things up any more than he did.’

Mr Violet bade farewell to his old furry friend, letting him lick his face with his pitted, scouring tongue. Violet jammed the pith helmet on top of Fangles’ vast head as an afterthought. It looked like a thimble on him.

Heep waved at Bertha, Rapley and Violet absently, already half-absorbed in the logistics of harnessing the peculiar talents of the man Andrews.

With Fangles trotting round Heep in a protective circle, the three weary adventurers walked away into the thinning mists.

The screen in the Ramp cinema buzzed into a dance of static, and they emerged through the deranged light with distortion dripping off their shoulders like the strands of a bead curtain.

Catherine Paranda threw her magnesium sticks aside and looked behind them at the screen. ‘Where are the rest?’ she hissed.

‘Ah,’ lamented Rapley, ‘Alas, they did not make it. They were burnt out, rendered powerless by the ferocity of his thoughts.’ He looked at the floor with theatrical woe.

Bertha sniffed back non-existent tears. Violet, no good at this sort of thing, whistled softly and looked at his toes.

Dosun sprang up from his chair with an agility surprising in one so tubby. ‘Pah! Details! It cannot be helped. A shame, verily, but the man is awake! He is restored!’ He waddled over to Rapley and shook his hand vigorously. ‘Congratulations to you and your associates! A job well done.’

‘Yes. All shipshape,’ said Rapley circumspectly, ‘though it's entirely possible that you may notice one or two slight differences in Andrews' temperament and aspect.’

Paranda ushered them through to the next room. ‘Well, of course, he may need time to readjust,’ she said, ‘But look - he is awake!’

Mr Andrews was sitting on the edge of a metal gurney, swinging his hefty shanks to and fro and muttering unintelligible syllables under the gusts of his breath. His eyes were clouded and his brow flexed up and down like a Venetian blind.

‘Oh,’ said Rapley. ‘He’s here. What a pleasant surprise.’

Mr Violet winced and backed slowly out of the room, Bertha following suit.

Rapley whipped around. ‘Charming exercise, a lovely time was had by all. We simply have to do it again. But now we really must be going.’

As they sped out of the room with impolite haste, there came a rumbling from the gurney as the Andrews creature spoke out loud. ‘I think. I think I would like. Like a breath of... fresh air, please’

Paranda and Dosun rushed to his side wearing expressions of beatific joy. ‘Certainly,’ said one. ‘Allow us,’ said the other, and they assisted the giant in whatever small ways they could as he took faltering gorilla strides towards the front door.

The late afternoon air was clear and crisp, the rainclouds had drifted on their way to their next appointments.

‘Well, cheerio, then,’ waved Rapley as he, Mr Violet and Bertha edged away from the other trio of unusual personages.

‘Is it working? Do Heep and Fangles have the reins?’ said Violet, out of the corner of his mouth.

‘Difficult to say for sure,’ muttered Rapley, ‘but he hasn’t killed anyone yet, so the signs are encouraging.’

Paranda and Dosun fawned over the blinking Mr Andrews as, in slow motion, he lifted one immense paw in front of his face, the fingers outstretched. A look of intense concentration creased his face.

There was the fleshy pop of a small birthsqueeze and tiny petals sprang up around each fingertip. Andrews stared in concentration as these petals grew features, each one a tiny smiling, giggling replication of Mr Andrews’ own face, striped and coloured in vibrant cockatoo hues of red and green. Paranda and Dosun leapt back in alarm, gasping in shock at such frivolity.

The laughing petal faces began to chant nursery rhymes and then, one by one, they popped free of their finger stalks and floated up into the air like cherry blossom. Each petal was instantly replaced by another before that, too, popped and separated, filling the air around them all with a drifting carpet of hundreds of brightly coloured, laughing facial spores.

Petals began to emerge around Andrews’ eyes like a pair of novelty spectacles, each detaching itself when fully formed to join the chattering merriment in the sky.

‘You don’t see that every day,’ observed Rapley as they ran away from the scene, tiny winking petals blowing them kisses as they whirled in their wake.

‘Can we go home now?’ shouted Bertha.

‘Certainly. I feel rather jaded from all this activity. The excitement has begun to wear off and once again I can feel the cape of boredom draping itself over my slender shoulders. A cup of tea and a Garibaldi sounds ideal.’

A flock of pigeons swooped through the giggling, multi-coloured cloud of leaves in the sky, emerging wearing headdresses of shining red and green petals. They looked at each other in confusion, like petulant sultans.

The moon had begun to show itself through the rich, dark blueness.

Down below, all was well.

© Tom Davies 2012 All Rights Reserved


Date and time of last update 18:25 Wed 22 Aug 2012
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