The Horror! The Horror!

Boz and Slasher were crouched behind a clutch of dustbins looking into the cool, wide eyes of an all but invisible ninja.

“I’ve got the others to safety in the woods. Now all we have to do is join them and not get caught on the way. Follow me.” And with that she disappeared.

“Er, Flo. We can’t see you.”

“Hang on.” Dark Flo rummaged around in the nearest dustbin and returned triumphantly clutching a crumpled front page of the Beano, No 2275 from February 22nd 1986, depicting Dennis the Menace and Gnasher. She produced a large safety pin from the folds of her Shinobi shozoko. “Pin this to my backside. Carefully.”

“You’d better do it, Slasher. I’m too petrified.” Boz was indeed quaking. “She’s more terrifying than that Captain Tierrasmedias.”

“Shush. Now, come along. And keep low.”

After an age in pursuit of the waggling comic, crawling and pausing and melting into the shadows, the trio reached a hole cut neatly in the chain link boundary fence. Beyond it small paper flags of all nations, on wooden sticks, marked the location of various booby traps.

“Boz, pick up the flags as we pass them. And for Cod’s sake look where you’re putting your feet. Both of you.”

Having reached the edge of the woods they could breath again. Dark Flo led them through the undergrowth and followed a muddy ditch deep into the forest. Until…

“Boz! Slasher? We’re all here.” Ginsbergbear popped up in front of them and Phoebles pushed past him to rush at his comrades. There was whispered jubilation and hugs all round. Flo had an arm each around Phoebles and Ferdy, but Boz stood alone, quivering.

“What’s the matter, Boz?” enquired Ferdy.

The ginger cat turned. His hands were shaking and staring eyes glistened.

“This obscenity has to be ended. It stops here and it stops now. Flo, get them to safety. I’m going to finish him tonight. Just me. I can’t ask anyone else to do it.”

“But Bozzy, we don’t do that…” began Phoebles.

“Now, Flo!”

The ninja began ushering the protesting chums away. She glanced back, an anxious look in her tearful eyes, but she obeyed the command.

Once he was alone Boz slid down into the foul dyke. He stripped off his shirt and wallowed in the mud until his fur was caked and umber. Only his bloodshot eyes were visible against the growing darkness. He returned to the gap in the wire fence. Inside the stench of putrefaction seemed stronger than ever. The demonic amber glow from braziers and blazing torches danced intense shadows about the compound. Clashing gongs and booming drums drowned out all other sounds in a satanic cacophony. Capitáno Tierrasmedias’ drug crazed horde was working itself up into a frenzy before descending on the hapless defenders of liberty and freedom. Boz slithered unseen towards Les Augrès Manor.

After a while he was inching towards something indescribable that blocked his path, something with a Dayak Parang sticking in it. Boz pulled out the machete, wiped the blade on his trouser leg and tested its weight. Perfect. He crawled on.

A spectral figure rose slowly behind one of the dodo statues, eyes glinting gold in the flickering firelight, matted fur blending into the darkness. Boz strode up the steps to the mansion and sought out the Capitáno’s lair. The sofa was unoccupied. An empty Tennents lager can rolled noisily across the floor, coming to rest at his feet. The prostrate Napoleon lay in front of him on a moth-eaten kilim. A skeletal matchstick body, luminous skin stretched taught over bone, appended the globular head it no longer strove to support. Face to the ceiling, wide sightless eyes sunk deep into the skull, the deranged, hyperactive brain had finally drained all but the last vestige of vitality from its wasted host. The lips moved imperceptibly, were they trying to form words? Boz leaned towards the toothless mouth and suddenly a claw like hand grasped his shoulder, dragged him close.

“Crows’ blood!” it cried in anguish. Then, a rattle in the hollow throat, and Capitáno Tierrasmedias was gone.

Boz heard the padding splayed footfalls, the swish of a tail, the clicking of claws on bare floorboards, approaching at speed. He dropped the parang and legged it.

 

The Routemaster was still where they’d left it, partially burned out, but the radio and battery had escaped the fire.

“Versailles this is Bald Eagle!”

“What? Who?”

“Smee, is that you? It’s Boz here. Dump everything you’ve got on the Jersey Zoo. I want that abomination flattened, wiped off the face of the earth.”

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Planning for the Peace

As Slasher McGoogs had wheedled his way into the Fluffy empire, surreptitiously plundered the archives, planned and plotted, he had also devoured works by Peter Kropotkin, Errico Malatesta and Rosa Luxembourg.   Emma Goldman wrote, A revolution without dancing is not a revolution worth having.   If there won’t be dancing at the revolution, I’m not coming.  The Grey Pimpernel found his soul mate in Niccolo Machiavelli, I’m not interested in preserving the status quo; I want to overthrow it, and, No enterprise is more likely to succeed than one concealed from the enemy until it is ripe for execution.  He read of Ché, Zapata, the Levellers and Ranters, Nestor Makhno, the Kronstadt sailors.   No revolution appeared to have achieved its lofty goals. Many failed, many faltered, many seemed won yet merely replaced one tyrant with another.   In William Morris’ more radical tracts he learned that he must consider first the needs of the people.   There would be no support if his actions resulted in famine and deprivation.   Well before triggering the struggle he must plan for the peace.

And so it was that while Cable Street blazed, in the blackest streets of Bethnal Green, Poplar, Whitechapel, Canning Town, soup kitchens sprang up – vegetarian soup, piscatarian soup, carnivorian soup – every conceivable flavour for those who love soup.   And there was crusty bread.   The fish fags and tagareen wives and pleasure kittens had been baking across the day and all through the night, every variety of bread that multicultural, multinational sailortown could devise.   It fell biblically from the heavens.   Their aerial propaganda mission done, Ferdy and Beryl took it in turns to pilot the yellow Dominie over London’s East End, laden with bakery produce, tied by string to cotton handkerchief parachutes.

For those who craved more than soup and cobs Brick Lane became a street market of curry stalls and the rival bagel shops threw open their doors.   pie-and-mash-shop-oldIn Salmon Lane trestles down the length of the street were laden with decorative bowls of sweet and sour pork, skewered chicken satay, sticky rice, Singapore noodles.   Kelly’s Pie and Mash shop in Bow had extra tables, borrowed from neighbouring households, out on the pavement.   M. Bloom (Kosher) and Son Ltd set up a take away stall next to Aldgate Station giving out salt beef sandwiches with kosher mustard.   And all over town humble British chippies were frying flat out to keep up with demand.

In Victoria Park a spinning, gunmetal blue, Frisbee shaped aircraft appeared, descended and parked, only slightly scorching the lawn and crushing the tricycle of a traumatised East End urchin.   The occupants of the craft emerged to set up a marquee advertising Vegan food and the resulting riot led to the visitors’ hasty departure.   It would appear that they eat some very strange things on the planet Vega.

In time the Toad Lane Co-operative Franchise extended its stores beyond the confines of Rochdale; Co-op general stores, clothing stores, chandlers, butchers and grocers sprang up throughout the land, owned and run by the people, for the people.

The lending libraries reopened.

Interesting Times

Ferdy's CiervaChapter Two

Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk, probably a little too loud in the earphones of his i-pod – Googleberry was lying on his back on Aunty Stella’s lawn, legs akimbo, soaking up the rays.

An over excited Strawberry was urgently trying to get through above the pounding strains of Pink Floyd, “We’ve had a semaphore from Limehousesailortown.   Boz says there’s a mood for revolution on the air.”

“Googleberries don’t do revolution.   Someone feed me a grape.”   Someone did.   It tasted unexpectedly fruity and he spat it out.   “Perhaps a fishy-snack-treat would be better… and a glass of sherbet.”

Something came between Googleberry and the sun, its shadow growing as it descended.   Gently a shiny new, royal blue Cierva C.19 with a white saltire painted on its tail landed on the grass a safe distance from the sunbathing cats.   Its engine coughed into silence and down clambered a slightly tubby, snub winged bird in leather flying jacket and helmet, goggles, short-legged jodhpurs and tight fitting lace-up boots.   The autogyro was a gift from the grateful people of Strathbogie and Ferdy wanted to show it off.

“You two coming to the big festival in Hyde Park?   I can squeeze you both into the front seat.”

“Norralf!” cried Strawberry, sensing another adventure, “How about you, Googleberry?”

“Too much effort, old man.” replied the recumbent feline, “Just leave the cool-bag of ginger beer within my reach, and bring me back an ice-cream.”

Strawberry was already scrabbling into the passenger seat as Ferdy kicked the engine into life.   Pulling his goggles down, he engaged the clutch to start the rotor turning.   He opened the throttle and accompanied by a satisfactory roar from the single Armstrong Siddeley Genet Major radial engine they bounced briefly across the lawn and were airborne.   Ferdy piloted the little craft high above the M3 into West London turned along Kensington High Street and headed for the patch of green that was Hyde Park.   They dropped down into a packed gyro park close by the Serpentine.

The festival was vast, a riot of colour and incredibly noisy.   It had been organised by the government to arouse a patriotic fervour in the population at a time of uncertainty and no little hardship.   The newspapers were full of praise for the enterprise.   On the television and radio, programme after programme covered the events, and the weather had, so far, been perfect.   There was a steam fairground festooned in flashing lights, competing music from wheezing mechanical organs all but drowned out by squealing teenagers.   A central arena hosted displays by motorcycle teams, police dogs and, currently, stiff, black uniformed soldiers mounting horse drawn field-gun carriages that wove and scissored with thundering hooves and clanking harness in time to The Galloping Major – piped over the Tanoy system.   At a safe distance there were ornithopter rides and balloon rides, once round the park for five guineas.   A military marching band in white pith helmets played… marches… in front of a stage from which, periodically, politicians, dignitaries and popular celebrities gave rousing speeches.   Almost everyone in the crowd had a small union flag on a stick that they waved whenever it seemed appropriate.   In fact the national flag was to be seen everywhere, across the stage, flying over marquees and stalls, painted, it seemed, on every flat surface.   Even the hot dog sellers, attracted to this event from all over the European Union, flew union flags above their stands.

Strawberry made a beeline for the fair, closely followed by Ferdinand.   The Whees, Aahs and Oohs grew in intensity until they swamped the senses and somewhere a steam calliope squeaked out a confused rendition of Jerusalem.   The duo rushed past the big wheel – a very big wheel with red white and blue gondolas swaying gently as it turned – past two garish, gilded carousels twirling freshly painted and fierce eyed gallopers, past the Wall of Death to the new and experimental steam dodgems – only to find they had been shut down indefinitely since a boiler explosion on one of the cars had led to injury and the threat of litigation.   Ferdy was crestfallen, but Strawberry spotted a Helter-Skelter towering in mint green and white candy stripes beyond a gently idling showman engine.   Clutching a mat he dashed up the inside and whizzed down the outside, and then he did it again, then went again, and went again, and again, and again, and again…   As he landed at the bottom of the slide, slithering and tumbling for the umpteenth time Ferdy snatched the mat from him.

“Enough!”

“There’s the Shamrock, lets go on the Shamrock.”   Strawberry pointed towards the Steam Yachts, the ultimate adrenaline ride.   It was rumoured that a steam yacht had killed more than the occasional passenger, towards the end of the nineteenth century.Carters Steam Yachts

“Lets find Ginsbergbear, he is giving a poetry reading at one of the fringe events.”   But on their way they saw that the prime minister was making a speech and stayed to hear it.  It was bland.

“Look,” Ferdy nudged Strawberry, “now that’s interesting.”

Behind the speaker, unobtrusive, yet seated where he would miss nothing, was The Media Oligarch, infamous subject of one of Slasher McGoogs’ more colourful broadsides.   He had, in his youth, been the white Persian cat playing alongside Donald Pleasence in You Only Live Twice and his real name was rumoured to be Mr Fluffy.   He did not notice the pair (Why would he?), but his chilling, cold-eyed smile set the fur and feathers bristling along their spines.

Far to the east, out beyond the city, a very different form of gathering was taking place.   And this had been the subject of Bozzy’s now unheeded warning.

Phoebles’s Story

PhoeblesChapter Ten

Right…   Well…   First off it’s PHOEBUS, not Phoebles, Phoebus The Shining One.   That’s BUS as in red, ‘room on top’, not BULLS as in horns and poo!

So, this thaw thing woz really inconvenient ‘cos we gorra sledge anna Brockhousecorgisnowmobile thingy an’ down in the valleys woz all slushy snow an’ melting ice an’ the skid things dunna work proper.   An’ we wuz forced up onto the ridgeways wot woz nice cuz we could see all about and where we woz goin’, burrit woz a bit windy.   An’ the streams woz all swollen an’ surging with melt water an’ some of the bridges had got swept away so we had to go a long way round.   Anyway it wuz fun sittin’ up on top of the sledge an’ luggage and everything an’ real excitin’ ‘cos we was doin’ a real rescue.

Anyway, somewhere north of Edinbugh Ginsbergbear’s i-Phone GPS stopped working ‘cos it was run out of electricity, burrit dinnermarrer ‘cos Boris still had his Dan Dare compass an’ that told the way… somehow.   But Boris said we wuz running out of fuel ‘cos of the Brockhousecorgisnowmobile having to work so hard an’ that woz a real problem.

So, there we woz, pootling along on top of some hill, tryin’ not to run out of fuel an’ a bit worried, but norra lot.   An’ Boris woz concentratin’ very hard ‘cos he said we woz runnin’ outta snow an’all an’ would haffta do summat about it soon an’ Ginsbergbear woz huddled up in a rug, wiyya hotwaterbottle, readin’ Moby Dick ‘cos he are nesh, burreye has got very woolly warm fur wot is impervious to the cold and wet and I woz lookin’ around and enjoying everything and I sees it.

Down below us woz a road and on the road woz a van wot wern’t movin’ an I jumps up an’ down an is shouting ‘cos Boris canna hear above the chuggin’ of the engine an’ he says,

“What’s up?”

An’ I says,

“Look there’s a van an’ it might have some wheels an’ we could make the sledge an’ stuff work wiyout snow.”

So we stops and discusses the practicalities of my idea an’ Boris and Ginsbergbear aren’t very optimistic an’ Strawberry wanna joinin’ in ‘cos he were being ockard.   An’ then Boris says that the van looks a bit like the Vicecream van an’ there are people millin’ about down there.   So we go for a closer look.

An’ guess wot.   When we gets closer we can see Aunty Stella, in a boilersuit anna leather jerkin like a lorry driver an’ one of the van’s wheels is off ‘cos it has a flat tyre an’ Aunty Stella is rolling a new wheel up.   An’ Ferdinand is there too, workin’ the jack, only he is a bit little an’ the jack is very big.   Still he doin’ all right.

An’ we run down the hill shouting,

“Aunty Stella, Ferdy, Aunty Stella, Ferdy Aunty, Stella!”

An’ they look up an’ they shoutin’ too.

An’ we get to them and stop, an Aunty Stella wipes her swarfy hands on her overalls before she hugs us all.

Then Ferdinand tells us all about crashin’ an’ polar bears an’ wullufses, in an excited sort of way.   An’ we tell them about losing my atlas wot woz old and dogeared, an’ about losing Bert who were old and dogeared too, but we woz sad.   An’ we all says,

“Ah, well…” an’ all mucks in fixing the van.

So anyway, when the van’s mended Aunty Stella says,

“Stow your gear in the back.” an’ there will be plenty of room for all of us too ‘cos she has had a clear out.   An Strawberry jumps in the cab wiy Aunty Stella and Ferdinand an’ we all climbin’ in the back ‘an WE ARE OFF!

An’ we are all singin’ Ten Green Bottles.

Phoebus,

Extraspecial Ginger Cat,

Somewhere in Scotland.

The Vicecream Van

Doncaster Coliseum RehearsalChapter Nine

Part Two

“Aunty Stella!” exclaimed the terrified bird.

The tall, slender creature stood before him, clad as last time he’d seen her, in greatcoat, piped and brass buttoned, tall boots of black leather, still the tall Astrakhan hat, but the muff was gone.   Over one shoulder was slung a cartridge belt and she carried a Browning B78, falling block, 45-70 hunting rifle, which she fired, once, into the air.   The wolves departed.

“Oh… Aunty Stella!”

Ferdy rushed at her and they stood hugging for a longtime.

“I think I might be able to rustle up some ginger biscuits, do you fancy a fortifying snack?”

“I’ve had rather a lot of ginger biscuits just lately,” replied Ferdy, hoping he did not sound ungrateful.   “You don’t have a bag of millet around do you?”

In the back of the van they partied well into the night.   There were finger snacks and tiny triangular sandwiches and a variety of sweet meats deep fried in beer batter, which Aunty Stella insisted was a Scottish delicacy.   There was pop in abundance, liberated from the Strathbogie supplies and “The Shadows Live at Doncaster Coliseum” on the Vicecream van sound system.

Next morning they had a barbecued full English, assessed their situation and surveyed the local geography.   The first signs of a thaw were now unmistakable.   The Vicecream van was looking much more serviceable than when it left The Land of Green Ginger.   It now had heavy duty tyres, the more trivial pieces of baggage were missing from the roof rack, abandoned along with their owners to the music halls of Northumbria, and replaced by jerry-cans of diesel and two spare wheels, strategically placed brackets held towrope, snow-shovel, flares.   The ice-cream maker had been removed and stored in a barn somewhere north of Berwick-upon-Tweed, making room for supplies, a small primus stove and an Elsan Visa model 268.   Ready for anything.

“Last leg.   Lets get this rescue wrapped up.” proposed Aunty Stella.

Crash Landing

Ferdy's Autogyro CrashChapter Eight

Part One

With little warning, Ferdinand Desai found himself in thick and freezing fog.   His windshield froze, the fuselage sparkled, his goggles misted over and his beak tingled with the sudden chill.   He tried to coax his craft upwards above the fog, but the build up of ice was making her heavy.   The engine began to splutter; parts were binding and the fuel turning to mush – the prop ceased to turn.   Slowly the autogyro began its gentle descent, buoyed by the free wheeling rotor.   Then there was a screech of locked and tortured metal.   The rotor bearings had frozen.   His descent turned into a plummet.

There came a jarring thud, some pings and boings, a pop and a small puther.   Ferdy found himself sitting at the centre of a snow crater surrounded, to a distance of ten feet or so in every direction, by disassembled and slightly bent aeronautical parts.

Having checked that all HIS bits were in place and full working order, he packed a stash of ginger biscuits into a knapsack and removed the compass from its gimballed mount.   He would continue with Plan A (no one had apprised him of a Plan B) and follow a line towards Edinburgh.   It would just take a little longer without his airborne transport.   Adjusting his goggles firmly he trudged blindly into the total white-out.

Trudging can be tiring and flying boots are not the best hiking footwear.   After what seemed an age Ferdy halted and partook of two well earned ginger biscuits.   It was whilst resting thus that he noticed a small, indistinct black blob out in the whiteness that enveloped him.   As he watched it grew larger, and blacker, and really large, and distinct, and nose shaped.   It stopped, hovering some way above him, in close formation with a pair of coldly intense eyes.   A large mouth also appeared, and spoke.

“And what exactly are you?”

Peering hard, Ferdy thought he could make out the outline of a massive white bear.

“I am Ferdinand Desai, dodo… on an important rescue mission.   Can I assist you in any way?” he added, politely.

“Not just now,” replied the polar bear, “I have already eaten, and at the moment a duck is out of the question.”

Ferdinand inwardly bristled.   He had endured duck jokes and similar manifestations of robust English humour ever since he first landed in the UK, but now did not seem a good time to get uppity.   Tentatively Ferdinand explained his situation, without much hope for a happy solution.   The bear however was feeling untypically sympathetic.

“I could give you a lift as far as the Great North Road.   I probably won’t get hungry before then and you might be able to cadge a lift from there.”   Not waiting for a reply the great bear scruffed Ferdy by the collar of his flying jacket and set off at a speedy lope.   Dangling, limp limbed from the jaws of a polar bear the dodo did not feel dignified, or comfortable, or particularly safe.   Modifying his expectations and assuming an air of resignation he was on the brink of getting used to the gentle swinging when they approached the tops of a bus-stop sign and a row of telegraph poles, peeking above the snow.   The bear dropped him at the bus-stop.

“I can’t see an omnibus coming any time soon, but you may be able to hitch a lift on a passing snow-plough.   I’m afraid I’m getting peckish and you are starting to look tasty so I’d best go find a MacDonald’s, or a baby seal or some such.” …and without looking back he loped off across the icy wasteland.

Ferdinand sat for a while, then rose and resumed his trudge.