I’m delighted to be taking an armchair journey to Cape Town to lecture to me friends via Zoom. Further details here:
Enjoy today’s mad installment! Links to the other 13 parts of the novel are at the end. Thanks for reading!
The worse part about it—besides the shock—was that he simply hadn’t seen it coming. He had always thought they were happy. There were times of course when she was a little quiet or preoccupied but he genuinely never before thought she was so unhappy. Brandon sighed heavily: there it was again: another “never before”.
What he needed was a good work out, some time in the steam room and maybe a nice long swim. But he would stay away from the river. One near miss was all he could take on a day like this.
Someone had burned the toast again and set off the fire alarm on the ward but Clarice wasn’t going to get involved. All was quiet, no last minute crises for a change and she was going to leave while the going was good. Saying good bye to everyone, she quickly hurried out of the ward, out the hospital and into her car. She was just about to put the car into gear when a dark figure sat up in the backseat. Clarice saw his eyes glitter in her rear view mirror.
“Don’t move,” he said. “I have a gun.”
Beside her in the passenger’s seat, the emperor penguin, flamingo and puffin had been waiting for her too, totally and completely oblivious to the stranger in the car because they had been too busy cracking avian jokes to check no one else was in there with them.
As the penguin had been in captivity all his life, he had had the advantage of catching a few cop shows the zoo keepers liked to watch. He and his friends were so cute tiptoeing to see into the keepers’ office to watch television that the zoo installed TVs for them to watch in their enclosure. Visitors would take photos of them crowding around the box, not knowing that the birds were pretty good at following a decent plotline. The penguin knew exactly what a gun was and knew what it could do.
“If I weren’t already dead, Alfie would kill me. Kill me!” said the penguin
The flamingo and puffin exchanged worried glances. They had been so confident of their instructions: accompany Clarice to the restaurant to make sure she got there safely. Once she was there, Ivan would do his love thing. What the birds hadn’t understood, being birds, was that Brandon was in serious danger of a very deep slide into depression. He needed Clarice and whether Clarice could admit it or not, she needed Brandon. It was a fool proof plan and the birds had been keen to get on Alfie’s good side ever since he threatened to pluck them. It had never entered their bird brained heads that the reason they were accompanying Clarice was to give everyone a bit of a break from their obnoxious ways and even more obnoxious jokes.
“This is bad, isn’t?” asked the flamingo in a shaky voice.
“He’s going to hurt her, isn’t he?” asked puffin.
“Not necessarily, not necessarily,” said the penguin. “What we need to do is put our brains together and come up with a cunning plan! A cunning plan!”
Before they could come up with a cunning plan, the man with the gun told Clarice to drive.
Clarice thought about it for a few seconds. “No,” she said clearly and firmly. If this is it, then this is it, she thought to herself. He is not going to drive me to some strange place and do terrible things to me. He can just shoot me now, right this second. She took the keys out of the ignition and steadily looked in the rear view mirror.
The birds looked at each other.
“Is she suicidal?” asked the flamingo.
“Like the girl?” asked the puffin.
“How would I know? How would I know?” asked the penguin.
There was click behind them and the penguin knew the gun had been cocked for shooting. He closed his eyes.
There was a loud explosion and a scream from Clarice. The bullet went through the front seat and passed straight through the flamingo’s left wing where it would have caused some serious damage had the flamingo not already been dead.
“Take these broken wings!” sang the flamingo.
“This is no time for jokes! No time for jokes!”
There was another click but this time, without any warning, the little puffin jumped over the seat and onto the man’s outstretched arm aimed at Clarice’s head. Another explosion and another scream from Clarice but this time, it was followed by the agonised groans of the man.
“You got him! You got him!” said the penguin.
“You got him to shoot himself!” The flamingo stood up to his full height and leaned over the seat to knuckle bump the puffin.
The puffin jumped up and down on the back seat. “I wasn’t even sure I had any physical force points!” he laughed obnoxiously. He did a few back flips and sprayed ghostly bird dung all over the man who was now screaming in agony.
Clarice turned in her seat and saw two things. One, the man was seriously hurt with a gunshot wound possibly to the femoral artery. Two, the gun had been dropped and was out of reach. Of course, she couldn’t see the birds or the mess the puffin was making. She opened the car door and ran for the safety of the hospital. A few minutes later, a team of paramedics arrived with a stretcher.
The birds watched as the man was loaded onto the stretcher, still screaming.
“This is better than television! Better than television!” shouted the penguin.
“I wish I had some popcorn!” hooted the flamingo.
“Bad news guys,” said the puffin. The penguin and the flamingo stopped their noise and looked at the puffin. With his itty bitty wing, the puffin pointed to the copious amount of blood on the back seat.
“Yuk,” said the flamingo. “That’s the problems with humans: they eat, poop and bleed too much.”
There was a loud sucking noise and suddenly Lucy was sitting in the driver’s seat.
“Guys,” she asked looked angry. “What happened?”
“A bad man with a gun tried to scupper our plans!” shouted the puffin, resuming his back flips.
Lucy took a deep breath. “And you used a physical force point?” she asked the puffin.
“I sure did!” said the puffin, not even pausing in his impressive gymnastic skills.
“Come here,” said Lucy, holding out her arms. The puffin back flipped onto her lap and looked up at her as if expecting to be told off. Lucy gently pushed the feathers from his face as best as she could and gave him a gentle kiss on his great big beak. The puffin cocked his head at her.
“That’s not the way we puffins roll,” he said.
“This is how we roll!” He jumped off Lucy and chest bumped the flamingo. Ghostly feathers flew everywhere.
“Very well done, you guys but we still need to get Clarice to the restaurant in time to see Brandon.”
Lucy silently drummed her fingers on the steering wheel.
A policeman opened the rear passenger’s door and shined a light inside. It was a mess back there. Besides the bird poop which the cop couldn’t see, there was blood everywhere. Lucy could see it had even splattered over the rear window.
“Oooooo,” said the birds in unison.
“That will never come out,” the cop muttered to himself, slamming the door.
“What a genius!” said Lucy.
“A right birdbrain,” piped up the flamingo.
“This is what I think we should do,” Lucy began. All three bird heads turned in her direction. “Clearly Clarice won’t be able to use this car.”
Just as she was about to reveal her plan, the driver’s door opened and someone else stuck their head in, looking for something.
“It’s just there,” someone from behind said.
“Yuk, what a mess,” the person who was looking for something mumbled. “I got it!” she called, taking Clarice’s purse.
“She sure is shaken up,” said the voice outside the car.
Lucy could see they were nurses from their white uniforms, most likely colleagues of Clarice.
“I would drop her off,” said one of the nurses. “Except I got a terminal case I have to watch. She’s a right old bat when she’s conscious but she might just buy it tonight.”
“I’m busy too,” said the other nurse. “A young suicide attempt.”
Lucy gave a sideways glance at the birds. She knew it was Caroline they were talking about.
“Oh I heard about that one,” the nurse nodded as she lit up.
Lucy could never understand why nurses didn’t take their own advice and stop smoking. In the darkness, she rolled her eyes. When she was in the hospital, she hated it when the nurse looking after her had breathed her ashtray breath all over her when she was unconscious. Just because she was unconscious didn’t mean the olfactory sensors weren’t working.
There was a sucking noise and suddenly Alfie and Ivan were in the backseat.
“Ew,” said Alfie simply, looking at all the blood.
“Do we have time to get her to Brandon’s?” Ivan asked. He pointed to greyish white splodge amongst all the blood. “Is that?” he started to ask.
“Bird poop!” said Lucy, the penguin, the flamingo and the puffin in unison. The puffin looked a little proud of himself.
“What is it with you animals and your bowels today?” Ivan looked disgusted.
“When you gotta go, you gotta go. Gotta go!” said the penguin.
“And besides that,” Alfie said looking directly at Ivan, “If I do recall someone else doesn’t have very good control over the old sphincter.” He was remembering the smell Ivan had caused on Alfie’s first night as a ghost.
“So what’s the plan?” Ivan asked Lucy, completely ignoring Alfie.
Lucy looked a little sheepish. “Well,” she began. “As I understand it, Clarice needs a lift but her colleagues are busy with patients. One is our Caroline and one,” she paused, “Is your sister, Ivan.”
Ivan sat back in the seat and looked at Alfie. “Alf—“ he began.
Alfie squirmed uncomfortably and shook his head. It bothered him to think he had the power to end a human’s life even if it meant that human did not have much of a life left. Like everyone else his age, he had had the Ten Commandments drummed into him and he was not at all confident he would not be answerable to someone over ending another person’s life. He thought about what Ivan said about Julie and how she had never had any sort of different experience to how she had to live. But Sarah? Sarah had good innings and had achieved much in her long life. From what Ivan had said, she would not have a chance to do anything else. She would just weaker and weaker and finally fade away. Thinking this through, Alfie felt he was ready to go through with their plan. Brandon needed Clarice and, as Alfie was now being completely honest with himself, he wanted Clarice to find his body, not a total stranger.
“Alfie?” Ivan asked again.
“OK,” said Alfie with a firm voice. “I think I got my head around all of this. I can do it.” He was just about to pass through the back door of the car.
Ivan reached for his arm. “You know, Alfie, I don’t know how the transport of the afterlife works. You know? I don’t know if I will see you again but I really appreciate what you’re doing.”
“Well, we really don’t know if it’s going to work,” cautioned Alfie. The plan was to scare Sarah during her next near death episode during resuscitation so her heart would completely stop beating. Alfie thought they would just resuscitate her again.
“But I thank you for taking the risk.” Ivan held out his hand for Alfie to shake. “Thanks.”
Alfie shook his hand then Ivan and Lucy followed him into the hospital.
They hadn’t walked very far down the corridor when Lucy pointed at a young nurse filling in some sort of form at the nurse’s station. “That’s her!” said Lucy. “That’s the friend who said she couldn’t help Clarice because she had a terminal case to watch over.
They followed the nurse to Sarah’s room and to Lucy’s relief, she had been right: it was Sarah the nurse was looking after.
Sarah looked pretty much the same as she did before. The heart monitor showed a steady rhythm. Alfie sat in chair next to her bed, waiting for the signal to do his business. Ivan stood next to his sister, staring intently at her. Lucy stood next to Alfie, stroking his hair.
“The birds did good,” she said.
“Certainly better than I would have thought,” Alfie agreed.
“It was the puffin, wasn’t it?” Ivan asked. “With the stupid laugh?”
Lucy nodded. “He was very pleased with himself,”
“Well, let him enjoy it,” said Alfie. “It’s not likely to happen again.”